Commissioner publishes report on the handling of complaints by Police Scotland
The Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) has published a report containing a series of findings and recommendations following an audit of Police Scotland’s triage procedures for the handling of complaints made by the public.
Implementing a recommendation of the Dame Elish Angiolini Report, the PIRC, and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) conducted a joint audit of a sample of Police Scotland’s complaint and miscellaneous files. It looked at how complaints were assessed, recorded, and categorised, progressed, and responded to and identified a number of areas for improvement.
The review covered the 6-month period of February to July 2021 and straddled the implementation of a new complaints handling model introduced by Police Scotland in May 2021.
The Police Investigation and Reviews Commissioner Michelle Macleod said:
“We found dedicated and committed staff within NCARU, who had to adapt to a new complaint handling model within a short time scale and whose role has been challenging due to a lack of specific training and ambitious targets for making initial contact with complainers.”
“We have made eight recommendations that are intended to support Police Scotland to improve the service and increase public confidence in their complaint handling process.
“Key areas identified for improvement include more specific training, clearer guidance on the classification of complaints and more accurate and streamlined recording processes.”
The report found there was an inconsistent approach to training and recommended Police Scotland standardise the training provided to complaint handling staff and specifically develop a training module which includes guidance on what constitutes a relevant complaint.
It emphasised the importance of regular and effective communication with the complainer and, while observing elements of good working practice in this area, it highlighted a lack of consistency in offering reasonable adjustments for vulnerable individuals and those with protected characteristics. To ensure, consistency there is a recommendation to amend the complaint form used by the Police to include specific consideration of such issues.
Incomplete records and complaints being incorrectly categorised were identified as an issue throughout the audit. Over a quarter of sampled files were incorrectly recorded or categorised. To improve accurate record keeping, there is a recommendation to revise current recording processes and develop guidance on the classification of complaints with practical examples of distinct categories.
Michelle Macleod said:
“Overall, the inaugural audit has shown a complaint handling system that demonstrates areas of good practice and highlights opportunities for further improvements.
“We are pleased that Police Scotland has accepted the recommendations and acknowledge that an internal review they had undertaken had identified some of the issues raised in the report and that they have already taken steps to address some of the shortcomings we reflected in the report.”
Police Scotland is establishing a short life working group to implement the recommendations and other, necessary changes. PIRC and the SPA will continue to work with Police Scotland to ensure these are successfully delivered.
The report can be viewed on the PIRC website at www.pirc.scot
Notes to editors
The Commissioner, who is appointed by Scottish Ministers, is independent of the police and has a statutory responsibility to review the way police manage complaints.
The Dame Elish Angiolini Report (DEA Report) on the Independent Review of Complaints Handling, Investigations and Misconduct Issues in relation to Policing, published in November 2020, included recommendations regarding PIRC undertaking regular audits of Police Scotland’s complaint handling procedures.
Further to the DEA Report, it was agreed that the PIRC and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) would conduct a joint audit to ensure both statutory duties were fulfilled, whilst avoiding duplication of effort.
National Complaints Model
The assessment of public complaints about Police Scotland is undertaken by the National Complaints Assessment and Resolution Unit (NCARU) that sits within PSD.
On 3 May 2021, Police Scotland PSD introduced a new National Complaints Handling Model (NCM) which required almost all relevant non-criminal complaints to be retained within PSD for investigation and resolution. Prior to that date, it was possible for complaints to be allocated to local policing divisions. The audit considered complaint files from three months prior to and three months after the NCM was introduced. The purpose was to identify any differences between the previous system and the new model, to assess the effectiveness of the NCM and ensure that any recommendations would be current, meaningful, and relevant.