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Annual report and accounts 2020-2021

16 Dec 2021

Commissioner's foreword

I have pleasure in presenting my second Annual Report as the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) for the year 2020-21. The past year has been dominated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and, like all public sector agencies, we had to quickly adapt our systems to ensure we continued to deliver our core services. Previous planning by our ‘Business Continuity’ team for dealing with such an event meant we were in a strong position to deal with the immediate impact of government lockdown restrictions. 

Staff were given the equipment and necessary HR and Corporate support to enable them to work at home. Despite the extra pressures and challenges of working remotely, colleagues coped admirably, typified by an impressive attendance rate of more than 98%. 

Throughout we continued to deliver our core functions and provide robust scrutiny of policing in Scotland aimed at continuing to improve policing services and increasing public confidence.

Throughout the 12 months our workload has remained steady. 

Overall, the Investigation Team dealt with 78 investigations, including several incidents involving the use of Taser, often to prevent violence towards police officers or attempts to self-harm by members of the public. There was a substantial increase in the discharge of Tasers from 23 in 2019/20 to 59 in 2020/21. Some of these were linked to incidents involving people breaching COVID-19 restrictions and we carried out six investigations of this type, to ensure the police response was proportionate.

An examination of the impact factors in the 59 referrals found that mental ill health was a factor in 63% of cases. Alcohol, drug use and self-harm were also significant factors. As police continue to roll-out Tasers to more officers, we will continue to monitor its use. 

Of note, was the fatal police shooting of a 28-year-old man in Glasgow in June 2020. This was the first investigation by the PIRC of a death involving police use of firearms. We deployed a team of investigators to the scene, immediately on being notified of the incident, and later that same day attended and oversaw the Post Incident Procedures (PIP) that had been established by the police. The professional response from our Investigation Team is to be commended. 

In last year’s report, I highlighted that we have sought to foster more of a learning culture within policing. This cultural change has, in part, continued to result in a marked improvement by the police of the handling of complaints from members of the public, with 71% found to be reasonably handled by the police; the highest percentage since the inception of the single Police Scotland force eight years ago. 

This was supported by the important work of the National Complaint Handling Development Group which, through partnership working, has contributed greatly to the overall improvements in police complaint handling. 

The publication in March 2021 of new, revised Statutory Guidance gives policing bodies a comprehensive template on delivering a transparent and fair complaints process. We anticipate that the guidance should lead to more consistency by the police in the handling of complaints made by the public.

Overall, the number of requests for Complaint Handling Reviews (CHRs) dipped slightly, although this was against a backdrop of an increase in the complexity of complaint cases referred to us and an increase in the average number of heads of complaint in each case. In last year’s report, I referred to the ongoing work to foster better collaboration with our partner agencies. Despite having to adapt to new ways of working, most notably the use of video calls, this stakeholder engagement has continued apace.

The publication of Dame Elish Angiolini’s final report on Police Complaints Handling, Investigations and Misconduct Issues in Relation to Policing in November 2020 resulted in the creation of a number of partnership groups focussed on delivering the wide-ranging recommendations aimed at improving accountability and the overall culture within policing. 

What was particularly pleasing was the recognition by Dame Elish that there has been a sea-change in the relationships among all of the justice and policing agencies with a significant improvement in interactions, joint learning and co-operation. 

We were also particularly gratified by the observation by Dame Elish that “there are gaps in the system that the PIRC is well placed to fill. It has the people, the skills and the values of integrity, impartiality and respect that…will allow the organisation to ably fulfil a set of new statutory powers I recommend in this report.”

We are working with the Scottish Government and all other justice and policing agencies to progress the recommendations. Some recommendations have already been implemented, while others are dependent on legislation. We will adopt a phased approach to implementing some of the more radical and structural changes proposed. 

Looking towards the second half of 2021 with encouraging signs that we will be able to return to a new kind of ‘normality’, we are planning for a phased return to the office with the likelihood of a hybrid model of home and office working. Through consultation with staff, we will assess how to achieve the optimum balance between these options.

We are also planning for the delayed COP26 UN environmental summit, one of the biggest events of its kind, to be held in Scotland in November 2021. Overall, during the most unprecedented and challenging times, the achievement of continuing, almost seamlessly, to deliver our core functions, is to the immense credit of all our staff.


Michelle Macleod


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