Police officers being investigated following deaths in custody can expect better treatment from the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the body has promised.
The watchdog is to overhaul the way it investigates deaths following police contact after it was criticised by bereaved families, officers and staff. It announced a number of changes in the report – Review of the IPCC’s Work in Investigating Deaths – published on 17 March.
Police officers that are under investigation are to be kept better informed about progress and timescale, it said.
The report said: “As we strengthen our focus on families and complainants, we must also make sure that we communicate appropriately with police officers and staff involved in our investigations and their forces.
“Police officers and staff reported that the quality of information provided to them was variable, and communication throughout the investigation was often poor. This, and the length of time investigations can take, had a significant emotional impact on them and their families.
“We will ensure that, as far as possible without compromising the integrity of the investigation, police officers and staff are kept informed about progress and likely timescale and any delays are explained.”
The IPCC’s review into its own practices follows criticism of how the watchdog has dealt with some cases. Some of the bereaved families consulted as part of the review said they felt they were treated insensitively.
Improving the treatment of such families in future is at the heart of the IPCC’s new 61-point action plan, it said. Under the plans, bereaved families will be able to contribute to the terms of reference of an investigation, while press statements about each case will be agreed between police and the affected families in advance of being released to the media.
The report listed a number of other changes, including the development of expertise in areas such as mental health, discrimination, scene management and forensic science, improving engagement with families and providing further training and guidance to investigators.
Dame Anne Owers, Chair of the IPCC, said: “These changes are not just about processes and guidance. They need to be rooted in a culture of independence and quality assurance, recognising that those directly affected are at the heart of what we do. This is also to the benefit of the police themselves – it is clear that, if people do not trust our independence and effectiveness, they will not trust the police service either.”
Responding to the IPCC report, Steve White, vice-chairman, of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “Police officers do cooperate fully with investigations, as defined in the ACPO guidance for Post Incident Procedures which require a full and comprehensive statement by individual officers after any incident has taken place.
“It is right that any death following police contact is rigorously and independently investigated for the sake and confidence of the bereaved families, the public and the police.”
Date posted: March 27, 2014