The number of police complaint cases has fallen this year, albeit by a very small percentage, to around 4300.
As the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner I am interested in what this tells us about public confidence in the police and the system we have for holding them to account.
Perhaps we should not be surprised by the total number of complaints made about the police, given the scale, range and complexity of police operations, coupled with the growing tendency amongst us all to question the standard of service we receive from public bodies, including from those whose job is to keep us safe.
I believe that we are fortunate to live in a democratic society, where policing is carried out by consent. That consent is more likely to be given if the public has confidence that, if they have a problem with the police, there is somewhere for them to go if they are unhappy with the way the police have handled their complaint.
Working in the criminal justice system over many years, I have learned the hard way that there is no such thing as a trivial complaint. It is how you deal with a complaint and the person making it that determines whether it escalates into an incident that sucks in resources of time, money and personnel or is mediated or explained in a way that leaves everyone satisfied and maybe lessons have been learned.
If the police respond positively to complaints and those who make them, it can have a beneficial effect, leading to increased confidence and trust, making police work easier to do.
I recognise that, for the police, being held to account is not comfortable but it need not be confrontational. Everyone involved in policing is more likely to be successful in securing the confidence of the public if they adopt an approach that recognises and respects the rights and responsibilities of all concerned. This includes the rights of those who bring a complaint, as well as the rights of officers who are the subject of a complaint. This can be a complex network of sometimes competing interests and agendas for any commissioner to navigate.
My role is also to provide assurance: assurance to those who bring complaints, assurance to the police and policing bodies dealing with complaints, and assurance to the general public and Scottish ministers that we have a complaints system that is fit for purpose.
For the public, this means ensuring that anyone with a complaint about the police has a place to go that sits outside the police framework of the Chief Constable's Command Team or the Scottish Police Authority.
My office also assists those who do not have a complaint: providing tacit assurance simply through the existence of the commissioner that there is someone checking that the police have the right procedures in place and that they are following them and holding them to account.
For the police there is the assurance of knowing that their systems are being scrutinised and evaluated independently by PIRC, and that there is a mechanism within PIRC to acknowledge and share best practice amongst all policing bodies operating in Scotland.
And for the politicians, I send regular reports direct to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to advise him of the results of my office's reviews and audits of the police in Scotland. This provides assurance that the police have effective processes and procedures in place to deal with complaints. Furthermore, if I identify an issue so important or widespread that I believe it warrants greater scrutiny, my powers allow me to bring this to the attention of Scottish ministers or to initiate an investigation in the public interest.
My strengthened powers also enable me to review the activities of all policing bodies operating across Scotland, something that should give the public, the police and the politicians a degree of assurance and confidence that the system is working but there is no room for complacency.
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