Published Date: 14.07.2010
The number of members of the public who have made complaints about the conduct of police officers is at the highest level it has been in the last eight years.
This information is contained in the latest Annual Report from the Police Ombudsman's Office, which was presented to Parliament this afternoon. (July 14 2010.)
According to the report, the Office received more than 3,500 complaints about police officers in the last financial year, which represented an increase of 14% on the previous year and the highest number it has received in all but its first year of operation.
The Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson said the figure mirrors trends identified by the Policing Board which indicate a declining level of satisfaction with policing service:
"Quite clearly the public who interact with the police are increasingly unhappy and this is reflected in the increasing number of complaints. There needs to be a collective institutional and governmental response to this trend. Obviously this will be even more difficult as this Office, the PSNI and other services face significant cuts in service in the years ahead," he said.
The complaints came from across the community. Police Ombudsman surveys of those making complaints (who indicated their background) suggest that 47% of people who made complaints identified themselves as belonging to one of the main Protestant churches (an increase from 44% on the previous year) 34% described themselves as Catholic (a drop from 39% the previous year) and 19% said they had another or no religion (an increase from 16% the previous year.)
Mr Hutchinson said that while his Office holds police officers to account, he believed it is increasingly important to work with the police, the public and other institutions to help improve policing for everyone:
"During the year the Office made more than 60 recommendations for improvements to police policies and procedures arising out of issues identified during the investigation of complaints. These included issues regarding the supervision of prisoners in police cells, the use of police officers personal protection weapons' while they are off duty and the use of 'stop and search' powers by police officers when not in uniform," he said.
In his report Mr Hutchinson made known that he has established an advisory group to provide the Office with advice on dealing with issues from the 'Past' and which will include people representing families from the Unionist and Nationalist communities and retired police officers. The Office currently has more than 100 such cases awaiting investigation.
"The group will not be involved in discussions on any particular cases, as our investigations are always independent of any outside influence, but hopefully it can help us ensure the service we provide might help in some way to bring some resolution to the differing needs of the families.
With respect to 'dealing with the Past,' in the absence of any Government resolution to the Eames/Bradley recommendations, I have now made it one of our Corporate Goals for the next three years. In addition to establishing a post of Director of Historic Investigations with a permanent team, I have submitted my third business case, this one to the new Minister of Justice, detailing the resources needed to deal adequately with unmet needs of families and survivors. These resources would be transferable to any new comprehensive body created in the future.
"It is my hope there will soon be the focused Government leadership required to move society towards reconciliation and a shared future. That future can never be realised by continuing a piecemeal approach, despite the best efforts of community groups and other organisations," he said.