Previous Chairman's blogs have spoken about the IPCC and much of the ground covered in those will have to be covered in this one. So why write this? Why write about another 'gross misconduct hearing' where on this occasion it takes only half a day to fully dismiss all of the allegations against an officer from an independent investigation by the IPCC? It is important because of the impact IPCC decisions have on the officers subject to their 'investigation'. It is important because poor assessment of a case from the outset has a big impact on the officer and the police force they work for. It is important because all of this, impacts on the service a force offers the public it serves.
Previous blogs have started with the following, 'policing needs to be accountable; it is one of the foundation stones of policing by consent'. I totally agree. But I must also insist that in holding anyone to account, the actions taken must be reasonable, proportionate, efficient and necessary. Police officers, police forces and the public must have confidence that IPCC investigations will encompass all of these principles. I fear this example shows clearly they are not. They need to get this right at the start.
Let me make this important point first, this blog should not be read as any form criticism of our own Professional Standards Department (PSD). They tried hard to persuade the IPCC to follow a different course on this independent IPCC investigation but they were not listened to. I offer my appreciation to the work of our PSD in how they approached this case.
On the 24th April 2017, a Kent Police Constable saw the end of an 18 month ordeal at the hands of the IPCC with the conclusion of a public hearing the IPCC directed would be held. Scheduled for three days, it took only half a day.
In April 2015 the officer concerned was deployed as a diary car on a late turn shift. With only one appointment early in the shift the officer dealt with the appointment and returned to a local police office to complete paperwork. Being proactive, the officer checks the calls on storm. During this time, the available status for the officer was not logged on storm. In theory this meant the officer was still shown at the appointment call. The officer's deployment status doesn't change until an offer to attend to sit up on a potential EBA call, which is broadcast by the FCR a couple of hours later. Throughout this time, another call in the local area is made by a male who reports a disturbance at his home address. There is no suggestion a disturbance is actually occurring and mental health concerns are raised. No attempt is made to resource the call while enquiries are completed. It transpires that the male has medical issues that he later, sadly, dies from. This is one of the cads the officer under investigation looks at during the shift. The coroner directs that police not attending the original call had no impact on the males' death. Due to the original call being made to police the incident is referred to the IPCC.
A few months later, the officer in the diary car is served with a notice of investigation. This is for an honesty and integrity breach because they failed to update their status after the appointment call. It must be asked how this decision is arrived at? The accusation is that the officer is 'hiding' within the call they had attended and then 'cherry picking' calls to attend, therefore avoiding dealing with a more challenging call such as the male with suspected mental health concerns. The interview conducted by the IPCC on the officer may sound familiar to many. There was no disclosure, which was only provided in stages throughout the interview. This was justified by the IPCC because they claimed to not be 'subject to the Home Office Guidance (HOG, the rules that provide fundamental protections for any police officer under investigation) and because they wanted to test the 'integrity of the evidence'. Clearly this breached the HOG and placed the officer in a position where they could not answer questions in the interview. The officer therefore provided a detailed statement.
In March 2017, the IPCC direct papers will be served on the officer for a gross misconduct hearing. The IPCC's approach to the bundle of evidence upon which they sought to rely was proved lacking, with appendices to reports not placed in the bundle and clear lines of enquiry not followed up on. As an example, which was clearly highlighted by the legally qualified Chair at the hearing, for the officer to be accused of 'cherry picking calls' surely all the calls the officer looked at should have been assessed to see if that was the case? All that was actually assessed was the call to the male and the EBA call. This therefore made it impossible to decide if a process of 'cherry picking' had actually taken place. In similar vein, there was no attempt to firmly establish if the officer had tried to call up to update from the diary call or had tried to use the soft keys on his radio to do so. I stress again, this was an independent IPCC investigation which was challenged by our PSD. It's worth noting that the officer concerned continued to work in their normal role with no management restrictions as there was clearly complete trust and confidence in what that officer. It was only the IPCC who did not trust the officer. Or was it that they just want to hold someone, anyone, to account for the sad death of the male reporting a disturbance?
The impact of this investigation on the officer has been huge. To have the potential loss of your job, your career, hanging over you and your family must be terrible. Yet the officer concerned continued to work and continued to do the best they could, the resilience they have shown throughout this time is remarkable and to their credit. This officer had done nothing more than their job and was trying to be proactive and make a difference. Yet this is interpreted by the IPCC as an integrity issue and the inevitable follows.
I go back to the principles I set out at the start, when holding anyone to account and in any investigation, the decisions and actions taken must be reasonable, proportionate, efficient and necessary. Police officers, police forces and the public must have confidence that IPCC investigations will encompass all of these principles. For those subject to the investigation they must surely be entitled to this just as much as anyone is when they are investigated. I feel that many lack confidence in the IPCC and its investigations and these sentiments have been voiced before. The fact that many are still voicing these sentiments means that the IPCC are not listening, they need to be. I accept that organisations, just like people, can change for the better. I am waiting to see evidence of a willingness to change by the IPCC, I fear I may be kept waiting, I fear we will be here again.
Kent Police Federation