Complaints about Northamptonshire Police rise by almost a quarter
Since April, 16 complaints have been serious enough to be forwarded to the Independent Office for Police Conduct
By Sarah Ward
The number of complaints about the service provided by Northamptonshire police has risen by just under a quarter in the latest year.
There were 1928 complaints made in the year to April compared to 1542 the previous year - a rise of 23 per cent.
And NN Journal can exclusively reveal that since April, 16 complaints have been that serious enough that they have had to be referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) for external investigation. In total last year 44 complaints were sent to the IOPC.
The complaints data have been included in the annual report of the county’s police, fire and commissioner’s office, which in 2020 took over the recording and handling of complaints from the force.
At the time police commissioner Stephen Mold said his office was taking over the complaints system to have a clearer view of the issues that were concerning the public however the report, which will be discussed at the police and crime panel this week does not go into details of what the complaints were being made about.
NN Journal has asked police commissioner Stephen Mold for some more information.
“Every complaint that is received is different, but the main concerns that I see referred to me are around timeliness of investigations, keeping victims and witnesses updated, or incivility from police officers or staff.
“There has also been a trend in complaints around driving standards.
“These patterns are fed back, both direct to the departments involved as well as to the Police Professional Standards Department, so that they can be acted upon.”
The complaints made about the force are looked at by a customer service team within the commissioners office who seek to resolve the complaint.
Any which can’t be resolved are classed as a schedule 3 complaint and are referred to the Police Standards Department (PSD).
Very serious complaints are sent to the IOPC.
As NN Journal reported recently, the police force referred itself to the IOPC regarding a fatal collision on the A5 between Weedon and Towcester in May. The IOPC is now investigating.
In the year 2021/22 339 complaints were classed as schedule 3, a reduction of 24 per cent on the 499 schedule 3 complaints dealt with by the PSD the year before.
Stephen Mold said:
“Of the complaints received, in 83 per cent of the cases we can use ‘service recovery’, which means that we are very quickly able to resolve the issue raised, whether that is by getting the information requested, or offering an explanation or apology, at the first point of contact. This means the person making the complaint gets a speedy resolution that they are happy with.
Asked whether he thought the number of complaints being referred to the IOPC was acceptable he said:
“The referral process to the IOPC exists to ensure that serious allegations are investigated openly and transparently. When allegations are referred, the IOPC can either investigate; ask the Force to investigate and oversee the process, or send the matter back to the Force to be dealt with locally. I meet the regional director of the IOPC regularly so that I am fully briefed on matters.
“We rightly hold police officers to the very highest standards of behaviour. In a perfect world, I would like to think that there are very few serious allegations against Northamptonshire Police Officers, but where there are, I am reassured that they will be investigated robustly and openly, or considered independently by the IOPC.”
Asked if he was concerned about the rise in complaints Commissioner Mold said:
“You can only understand what is going wrong, and make things better, if you are open to receiving feedback and complaints, and acting on them.
“As the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, I was very keen to take on the responsibility for complaints as I view it as another way that I can better understand how people experience the service from Northamptonshire Police, and where improvements could be made.
“The change in the definition of a complaint to ‘any expression of dissatisfaction’ covers a much wider area than it did before, and I fully expected to see an increase in the numbers received and recorded after that change in February 2020.
“I want people to feel confident in coming forward to give their feedback and make complaints, it is a very important way to build and maintain public confidence.
“I monitor Home Office figures to make sure that Northamptonshire Police is in line with national trends and while that is clearly the case, it is also clear that the change in definition caused a similar level of increase in those forces as well.”
Data provided by his office shows the increase in complaints from when the new recording system came in in 2020.
The commissioner said:
“I want people to receive the very best service they can from Northamptonshire Police and feel confident that they always will.
“When things go wrong, I want to know about it, so that I can hold the Chief Constable to account.
“The Customer Service Team links directly into the Force every day, to highlight where things could be improved, and I regularly use the feedback to hold the Chief Constable to account. I believe that the work the team carries out on my behalf is having a positive impact on the quality of service delivered to the residents of Northamptonshire but I know, there will always be more to be done.
One example is that because of a complaint received, my team was able to suggest changes to the way information about breaches of bail were held, so that all departments with appropriate permissions were able to access it. This suggestion was implemented, not only in Northamptonshire but across the East Midlands region and has enabled the Force to act more promptly to better safeguard victims or prevent potential victims from coming to harm.
“I believe this strengthens my role in holding the Chief Constable to account, giving me a greater insight into how the Force is working and a better understanding of the public’s concerns.”
Following NN Journal’s question the commissioner has said from now on the annual report will include a breakdown of the number of complaints going to the IOPC.
The data about IOPC complaints was provided by Northamptonshire Police and a spokeswoman, said:
“As a Force, we do not want to see victims of crime let down or officers and staff not upholding the very high standards everyone who works for us is expected to meet.
“Therefore we welcome feedback from the public and all complaints received are carefully scrutinised and appropriate action taken when required.”
We have asked the IOPC for more information about the 44 complaints logged with them in the past year and will follow up this story when it provides the information.
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