By Laura Miller
The number of complaints made against police has increased 83 per cent in the last five years, a new report has revealed.
In 2007/08, nearly 29,000 complaints were made to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), 100 of which resulted in independent investigations due to their seriousness. In 2004-05 there were only 31.
But failings in the current system mean people who are dissatisfied with the way a complaint has been handled by the IPCC have no way of recording their grievance.
The lack of input from people making complaints against the police "exposes the IPCC to criticism and makes it more vulnerable to allegations of incompetence or bias," the report said.
It continued: 'The Home Office needs to decide who should be carrying out this monitoring to ensure that there is a clear and well established line of accountability.'
The report, by the public accounts committee, also flagged up problems with the 'critical friend' approach of the IPCC's Advisory Board, set up with the intention of representing the views of the police, complainants and the public.
But of the 15 member organisations, all but two represent government, police or staff interests, and with no formal quality control framework in place the public have no opportunity to protest about the outcome of their complaints.
Less than half of the 100 most serious cases for 2007/08 underwent the IPCC's self review of the progress of the investigation.
Only 19 were reviewed by the IPCC's senior investigator assigned to examine the cases.
The IPCC also received 4,141 appeals about local police investigations - a four-fold increase on the number in 2004/05.
The IPCC attributed the 83 per cent increase in the number of complaints against the police, from 15,885 in 2003/04 to 28,963 in 2007/08 to improved public access and confidence in the police complaints system.
But because of the lack of quality control the IPCC could not say that the increase was not the result of rising dissatisfaction with police.
According to the British Crime Survey, around 300,000 people who have had contact with the police describe themselves as very annoyed following it - around ten times the number of people who actually make a complaint.
The impact of organisational changes in May 2008 was a key issue in the report.
Responsibility for the decision on how a complaint should be handled by the IPCC was transferred from commissioners, guardians of the IPCC's independence, to regional directors, who are part of operational management within the IPCC.
This change, the report said, "increased the risk that scarce resources will have an undue influence over decisions about how a complaint should be investigated".
To ensure proper accountability, and impartiality, the report recommended that commissioner oversight be restored.
The IPCC rejected the committee's suggestion that the thoroughness of investigations into complaints against the police were "unduly influenced by resource pressures".
London and the South East were the areas with the most complaints against the police. It was also where the worst problem was in terms of the IPCC meeting its investigation appeal targets - only 27 per cent were dealt with in line with the targets.