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Public demanding a service: Police Ombudsman

Published Date: 7 May 2004

Allegations that police officers have failed in their duty is the largest growing category of complaint and represents almost one third of all complaints made about police last year, the Office of the Police Ombudsman has said.

During the past business year, while allegations of Oppressive Behaviour, including issues such as alleged assault, remained the largest area of public complaint – representing 37% of all complaints – the rate has dropped from 49% in 2001.

The fastest growing category of complaint involves allegations that police officers have neglected to do their duty. Last year the allegation represented 31% of all complaints made to the Police Ombudsman's Office – an increase from 23% in 2001.

Police Ombudsman, Mrs Nuala O'Loan said the reduction in allegations of Oppressive Behaviour and the increase in complaints about failure of duty suggests a 'normalisation' of attitudes:

“The complaints we get involve allegations such as police failing to deal with types of traffic matters or taking too long to attend incident scenes. All complaints must be treated as unproven allegations until evidence proves them otherwise.

Even so, the figures would seem to suggest that the public has an expectation of a normal policing service and are ready to complain if they feel they do not get it. That applies to both sides of the community: our figures suggest 48% of our complaints are from people who identify themselves as Protestants and 37% from people who said they were Catholic.”

Mrs O'Loan said part of her role is to make such figures public. Their implications for police resources, including the future of the police reserve, is a separate matter:

“I am aware what Patten has said about the full-time reserve and I have heard the argument for letting the officers go through 'natural wastage.' I see the arguments for both and have no view on this matter. It is a matter for the Chief Constable, who has said he will make a judgement later this year.

However, as someone who deals with police complaints, I feel it is important that while we have Reserve officers, they receive the training and development necessary to enable them to do the job,” she said.