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Annual report and accounts 2017-18

23 Nov 2018

Commissioner's foreword

2017/18 was a year that strained our capacity and tested our resolve, requiring us to deal resolutely with matters at struck at the very heart of public confidence in Scottish policing.

A large part of this was prompted by the unprecedented level of referrals we received from the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) concerning allegations of misconduct by senior officers. These allegations were forwarded to me over a concentrated six-month period, and were both serious and demanding in their nature and sensitivity.

The subsequent investigations were high profile and attracted intense media and political commentary. This, together with stretched resources and the ‘drip feed’ effect of additional allegations, placed considerable demand on our investigators at a time when they were already dealing with a high volume of cases, some of which involved allegations of criminal behaviour by other police officers and deaths. In spite of this, the Investigation Team maintained its professionalism, tenacity and impartiality in seeking the truth behind the allegations. Our reports on these matters were then submitted to the SPA, which is responsible for deciding what action to take in such cases.

Another unexpected test for us arose from this year’s extensive audit of the SPA’s complaints handling procedures. This was the third such audit carried out by the Review Team and it revealed a number of areas for improvement. I made several recommendations designed to improve the SPA’s processes and at the time of writing I am aware that it is making good progress in responding to them. 

At the outset of the audit I made it clear that I intended to publish my report in December and my decision to proceed with its publication as scheduled, allowed me to re-emphasise the independence of my office and role as Commissioner in relation to these matters. 

In terms of our day-to-day business, overall the trend throughout the year was one of sustained demand. 

Most notably, the complexity of the investigations carried out by the Investigation Team has increased significantly in the five years since the PIRC was established. In 2013-14, only three per cent of our investigations were classed as Category A (major investigations). This year, 42 per cent fell into this resource-intensive category, a rise of 29 percentage points on the previous year alone.

We also saw a shift in the origin of these investigations. Whilst the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) directed investigations fell, the number referred by Police Scotland doubled. Additionally, as highlighted above, the SPA directed six investigations to us having referred none the previous year. 

One particular case that struck me this year involved an application for a complaint handling review. Upon closer examination it appeared that the police actions at the core of the man’s complaint amounted to potential criminal behaviour and therefore merited a full independent investigation rather than a review. The COPFS confirmed our assessment and duly directed us to investigate a number of the police officers involved. 

This case re-emphasised to me an inherent weakness in the current police complaints system: it allows serious complaints like this one to pass through Police Scotland's internal system, with no independent check. It is of concern to me that, when presented with the opportunity to recognise and address certain issues, Police Scotland’s Professional Standards Department failed to do so. 

Without doubt, all the high-profile investigations that we carried out this year combined to put staff under a great deal of pressure. This, together with expanding workloads in other areas of our business, meant that the need for additional resources to bolster our operational capability became inevitable. 

Following the submission of a number of business cases to the Scottish Government, I am pleased to report that the Cabinet Secretary agreed to increase our budget for next year to £4,254,000. Looking to the future, I believe that it is crucial that Government remains responsive to further justifiable calls for additional resource if we are to cope with growing demand for our services.

Turning to the Review Team, although this year saw a seven per cent reduction in the number of new requests for complaint handling reviews, the level has now simply reverted to the number received on average annually over the past five years. 

On the back of these reviews, the Team issued 266 recommendations to policing bodies in Scotland. Staff continue to work closely with these bodies to ensure that the reommendations are fully implemented. At the time of writing, 83.8% of those recommendations have been put into effect and I expect this number to rise in the coming months.

To complement the review side of the business, the Team sought to supplement its guidance to policing bodies by extending its series of best practice guidance presentations throughout Scotland. It is hoped that this outreach work, which was well received by Police Scotland, will help to improve the quality of Police Scotland’s response to complaints from members of the public. 

The Corporate Services Team supports the operational areas of the organisation. Not surprisingly, therefore, it too experienced significant growth in its workload this year. 

This included a considerable boost in recruitment activity following the receipt of additional monies from the Scottish Government, as well as all the extra work that accompanies the introduction of new staff. Furthermore, the heightened media attention around a number of our investigations had a concomitant effect on our Communications Team, at a time when they were also working towards the launch of our new website in October 2017. Corporate Services staff also worked hard to make us ready, and compliant, for the new General Data Protection Regulations. 

As well as welcoming new staff to the organisation, this year we also bid farewell to our Director of Operations, John Mitchell, who retired in March. John joined the organisation in December 2012, during the transition period from the Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland (PCCS) to the PIRC.

He was instrumental in establishing the Investigations function during his initial four years with us as Director of Investigations. In his role as Director of Operations, he oversaw all aspects of operations while also acting as Accountable Officer. During his time with us John was an invaluable member of our management team and we will miss his astute leadership and, of course, his good humour. We wish him many happy and relaxed years ahead in his retirement.

Despite the various challenges we faced this year, all three teams continued to deliver a high standard of service. I wish to record my thanks to all staff for their continuing dedication and commitment to increasing public confidence in policing in Scotland.

Kate Frame


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