By Ian Dunt
The body tasked with investigating complaints against the police is unable to do its job and has perilously little public trust, an influential committee of MPs said today.
In a damning report which could fundamentally change the complaints system governing the police, the home affairs committee found the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) was fatally undermined by the fact it is staffed by the very people it is supposed to be investigating.
"When public trust in the police is tested by complaints of negligence, misconduct and corruption, a strong watchdog is vital to get to the truth: but the IPCC leaves the public frustrated and faithless," chairman Keith Vaz said.
"The public are bewildered by its continued reliance on the very forces it is investigating."
The committee found the watchdog was overloaded with appeal cases. MPs concluded it often focused on less serious complaints and let serious cases of police corruption or misconduct under-investigated.
Public trust in the body was seriously undermined by the fact it was almost staffed by many former police officers and replied on the investigatory resources of the very forces it is supposed to be investigating.
"Nearly a quarter of officers were subject to a complaint last year. Many were trivial, but some were extremely serious, involving deaths in custody or corruption—it is an insult to all concerned to do no more than scratch the surface of these alleged abuses," Vaz said.
"The IPCC investigated just a handful and often arrived at the scene late, when the trail had gone cold. The Commission is on the brink of letting grave misconduct go uninvestigated.
"It is buried under the weight of poor police investigations and bound by its limited powers."
MPs demanded the commission investigate more cases independently, rather than sending the work back to the local force and creating a 'complaint roundabout'. Forces would shoulder the financial burden of the investigation, it found.
Other recommendations included:
That IPCC investigators arrive in the early 'golden hours' of cases of death or serious injury involving police officers, rather than turn up when the trail had gone cold.
A specific budget to be set aside by the government for the IPCC' serious cases response team and statutory powers for the watchdog to make local forces implement its findings.
That only 20% of the watchdog's investigators should come directly from a career as an officer.
That the IPCC's jurisdiction should be expanded to cover private sector providers of police services, along with Home Office bodies like the UK Border Agency.
"The IPCC is not strong enough to tackle the problem when policing goes wrong," shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper commented.
"For the public to have confidence in the high standards of British policing, they also need to know that there will be swift, robust action when policing goes wrong."