(Published November 2023)
The Elected Local Policing Bodies (Specified Information) (Amendment) Order 2021 provides that PCCs must publish a narrative setting out:
- How the PCC is holding the Chief Constable to account in respect of complaints; and
- The PCC’s assessment of their own performance in carrying out their complaint reviews function.
Data included throughout has been taken from the Q1 West Mercia Police Complaints Information Bulletin published by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) covering the period 01 April 2023 – 30 June 2023, unless stated otherwise.
PCC assessment of performance in holding the Chief Constable to account
Measuring complainant satisfaction
There is no direct measure of complainant satisfaction. However, several key performance indicators (KPIs) published by the IOPC can be used as indirect measures. This performance data is scrutinised by the PCC on a quarterly basis and a summary of indicators related to satisfaction are set out below:
- Resolution rate for dissatisfaction dealt with outside the formal complaints process (Schedule 3): Where appropriate, the West Mercia Police Professional Standards Department (PSD) will seek to resolve dissatisfaction outside of the formal complaints process (outside Schedule 3). This enables a more proportionate and timely resolution for members of the public. In Q1, 95% of allegations dealt with outside of the formal complaints process were resolved by the force. This is a slightly higher resolution rate than the national average (93%) and shows that in almost all cases, complainants in West Mercia have been happy with the way in which the force has informally resolved expressions of dissatisfaction.
- Proportion of formal complaints that resulted in a review: Where a complaint has been formally recorded (referred to as under Schedule 3), the complainant is provided with a right to review when they receive their complaint outcome. The number of reviews received as a proportion of complaint cases finalised under Schedule 3 in West Mercia (15%) remains lower than the most similar force (MSF; 34%) and national (22%) average. This is positive as it suggests that a greater proportion of complainants in West Mercia accept that their complaints were dealt with in a reasonable and proportionate manner compared to other forces.
To support public confidence and satisfaction with the police service, the force’s PSD works closely with the Victim Advice Line (VAL) team to ensure victims of crime receive the service they are entitled to. This includes local and national work to develop mechanisms to monitor complaints data in relation to the Victims’ Code; and ensuring appropriate signposting and access to the Victims’ Right to Review process where this may be a more appropriate avenue for complainants.
Progress updates on implementing relevant recommendations made by the IOPC and/or HMICFRS in relation to complaints handling, or where recommendations were not accepted an explanation as to why.
The IOPC is able to make formal recommendations where it identifies a potential area of organisational learning for a police force. Any such recommendations are published on the IOPC website. Where learning recommendations are made, they are shared with the PCC to enable oversight of the force response and any action taken. There are no current learning recommendations for West Mercia Police (the last being published in September 2020).
There is 1 HMICFRS recommendation in relation to complaints handling. This recommendation was included in the national inspection of vetting, misconduct and misogyny in the police service that was published in November 2022:
“Recommendation 24: By 31st October 2023, Chief Constables should make sure their professional standards departments attach a prejudicial and improper behaviour flag to all newly recorded relevant cases”.
This flag is now in place and being used by PSD.
The force’s progress against all local and national HMICFRS recommendations related to vetting, misconduct and misogyny were most recently subject to scrutiny through the PCC’s Assurance and Accountability (A&A) Meeting in August 2023. This is the meeting through which the PCC holds the Chief Constable to account for performance. The Chief Constable provided an update against all areas for improvement, and reassuringly good progress had been made against 85% of recommendations.
A summary of any mechanisms put in place to identify and act on themes or trends in complaints
PSD produce quarterly performance data to identify themes and trends in complaints and conduct cases. This includes data on volumes, initial handling and contact, timeliness, and finalisation. This is supplemented by OPCC data on complaint review trends. Oversight and scrutiny of this data is provided through a number of forums including a quarterly PSD performance meeting convened by the PCC, the West Mercia Police Fairness, Policy and Standards Board chaired by the Deputy Chief Constable (DCC), and regular meetings with the IOPC.
Themes and trends identified by PSD are used to inform primary prevention work to address culture and behaviours, including through communications, support to local teams and training of officers and staff.
Key themes identified by the local and national oversight bodies (the PCC and IOPC respectively) have also led to action to better understand trends in the data. Over the last 12 months, the PCC and IOPC identified that West Mercia Police had a relatively low number of IOPC reviews compared to the MSF and national average. This was monitored over time and led to the commissioning of dip sampling activity by the IOPC to review PSD’s initial complaint handling including the relevant review body (RRB) test. This dip sampling took place in September 2023 and the findings are still pending. Feedback will be used to inform activity within PSD and the PCC’s office to ensure all complainants have access to the right review body.
A summary of systems in place to monitor and improve performance in the timeliness of complaints handling
Quarterly performance data produced by PSD and the IOPC includes data on the timeliness of complaints handling. This includes timeliness of initial contact and time taken to finalise cases. This data is reviewed as part of the quarterly PSD performance meeting convened by the PCC and in joint meetings held with PSD and the IOPC.
Performance in relation to timeliness of complaints at the start and end of the process is set out below:
- There has been a considerable improvement in the time taken to initially contact complainants and log complaint cases compared to the same period in 2022.
- The average number of days to contact complainants in West Mercia is 3 days. This compares positively to the MSF and national average (5 days).
- The average number of days to log complaint cases in West Mercia is 4 days. This compares positively to the MSF (9 days) and national average (5 days).
- The average no. of days to finalise complaints (outside Schedule 3 and under Schedule 3) in West Mercia remains above the MSF and national average.
The improvement in timeliness at the front end of the process is particularly positive in the context of an increase in the volume of complaints in Q1. The trends in timeliness were subject to scrutiny at the Q1 PCC – PSD performance meeting in July 2023. PSD provided assurance that the delays in finalising complaints reflected delays in administrative processes that did not impact complainants (i.e., complainants were in receipt of their final letters in a timely manner, however cases awaited closure on the Centurion system). PSD anticipated that performance would improve across the next 3 quarters as a significant volume of complaints had been finalised this year thus far. It was noted that due to the small size of the complaint team, vacancies, annual leave and sickness can have a significant impact on performance. Staffing levels and performance in relation to timeliness will continue to be monitored.
Alongside data produced locally and nationally, the PCC also has systems in place to monitor complaints-related correspondence sent to him from the public to identify and address concerns regarding timeliness of complaints handling. Individual issues are referred to PSD on a case-by-case basis where appropriate. Any emerging trends can be escalated to the PSD performance meeting for further scrutiny and action.
The number of written communications issued by the force under regulation 13 of the Police (Complaints and Misconduct) Regulations 2020 where an investigation has not been completed within a “relevant period”
Where West Mercia Police has not completed a complaint or conduct investigation within 12 months, they must issue a written notification letter to the PCC and the IOPC under Regulation 13 of the Police (Complaints and Misconduct) Regulations 2020. West Mercia Police have issued notification letters (and in some cases, 6 monthly update letters) for 13 cases since the legislation was implemented in February 2020.
Each notification letter is reviewed by the PCC and Chief Executive, and any trends raised with the Head of PSD via email or escalation to the quarterly meeting convened by the PCC. Only 2 of the 13 cases are still live (1 recorded in 2020, 1 recorded in 2021). Both are subjudice pending the outcome of criminal investigations and judicial proceedings.
The PCC has raised concerns regarding the issuing of 12 month letters with the DCC and Head of PSD on several occasions. This includes querying the number of letters provided, the timeliness of these submissions, and the process for monitoring 12 month letters. Following an audit of complaints, PSD have identified a number of potential cases that should have been subject to a 12 month letter. These cases are now being reviewed, with a deadline for any required letters to be submitted to the PCC and IOPC by the end of October 2023. The 12 month letter process will continue to be subject of scrutiny by the PCC until improvements are made.
Quality assurance mechanisms in place to monitor and improve the quality of its responses to complaints
PSD has built in quality assurance mechanisms within their process to monitor and improve the quality of responses to complaints. All complaints are reviewed by the Complaints Sergeant (Sgt) in PSD and an internal Terms of Reference (TOR) document is completed to assist the complaint handlers and ensure that the Appropriate Authority (AA) is consulted where relevant at the start of the process.
At the conclusion of the ‘other than by investigation’ process (accounting for most complaints recorded under Schedule 3), the complaint Sgt undertakes a further review to ensure all elements of the complaint have been answered. The AA then completes the final letter and outcome. At any stage the complaint can be re-assessed or returned to the complaint handler for further work to ensure a high quality of service is being provided.
The IOPC dip sampling in September considered the overall quality of complaints handling in West Mercia. Whilst formal findings are still pending, informal feedback suggested the standard and timeliness of complaint handling in PSD was very high. Any areas for improvement identified from the dip sampling will be reviewed and implemented to further improve quality.
If a complainant is not satisfied with the way their complaint was handled, they can submit a complaint review to the RRB. If the RRB is not satisfied the outcomes of a complaint are reasonable and proportionate, it can make various recommendations dependant on how the complaint was handled. This includes how the dissatisfaction expressed by a complainant can be remedied to make sure the substance of the complainant’s concerns are fully addressed.
As the local RRB, the PCC’s office has established a mechanism to record all recommendations and oversight learning identified through complaint reviews. Trends are analysed and feedback is provided to PSD by the Deputy Chief Executive in the PCC’s office to help improve the quality of the force’s response to complaints. In the past, this engagement with PSD has led to further training inputs for the department, and implementation of new processes (e.g., the TOR mentioned above), to continuously improve the service provided to the public. The reduction in reviews upheld over the last 12 months indicates that action taken following this feedback is leading to positive changes for complainants.
Details of the administrative arrangements the PCC has put in place to hold the chief constable to account for complaints handling
As set out above, the PCC has put in place a number of administrative arrangements to hold the Chief Constable to account for complaints handling. Arrangements include:
- Quarterly PSD performance meetings convened by the PCC. These meetings are attended by the DCC, the Head of PSD and the Senior Complaints Manager. The meetings focus on performance against complaint handling KPIs, complaint reviews data and oversight of gross misconduct matters including suspensions and proceedings. Any trends identified via the PCC’s casework (for example concerns regarding timeliness) can be escalated into this forum for scrutiny and action.
- Escalation to the PCC’s A&A programme. As set out previously, the PCC has formally held the Chief Constable to account for matters related to standards and ethics including local and national HMICFRS inspections on vetting, misconduct and complaints, and the Baroness Casey Review.
- Quarterly meeting with the IOPC and PSD. These meetings provide an opportunity to discuss performance against KPIs (in the context of regional and national trends), local / national policy and learning from the complaints and review processes.
- Quarterly meeting with the IOPC. The PCC’s office has a second quarterly meeting with the IOPC to discuss PCC-specific concerns and complaint functions. These meetings provide an opportunity for the PCC to raise oversight issues to inform holding to account activity, discuss Chief Constable complaint handling and share learning on oversight activities.
- A report on the above arrangements and the PCC’s complaint reviews function is provided to the independent members of the West Mercia Joint Audit and Standards Committee (JASC) on a quarterly basis and is published on the PCC’s website. Work is ongoing to develop a programme of audit around standards and ethics which will further enhance the PCC’s arrangements to hold the Chief Constable to account.
PCC assessment of performance in carrying out complaint reviews
Timeliness of complaint reviews
Where the PCC is the RRB, the average number of working days to complete a review in Q1 2023 was 32 days. This is comparable to performance in 2022 and is considerably quicker than the MSF (45 days), national average (56 days) and time taken to complete IOPC reviews (> 100 days).
Complainants are provided with an update on their complaint review every 28 days until such time that it is finalised.
Details of which review functions the PCC has delegated and what measures they have taken to ensure quality, integrity and impartiality
The PCC has delegated part of the complaint review function to an independent and qualified external body. The external body assesses reviews and provides the PCC’s office with observations and recommendations. The PCC’s Deputy Chief Executive will then make the final decision on the outcome, and if necessary, any recommendations to the force. This 2-stage process enables the PCC’s office to ensure quality, integrity and impartiality of decision-making. All complaint reviews are considered by at least 2 professionals, independent of the police force, with a clear audit trail setting out the rationale for review decisions. Further details of the process in place for complaints reviews can be found here: https://www.westmercia-pcc.gov.uk/key-information/police-complaint-reviews/
Systems are also in place to actively manage complaint-related correspondence from members of the public, to avoid any future conflict of interest or involvement in cases that may later be subject to review.
Quality assurance mechanisms the PCC has established to ensure that review decisions are sound and in line with the requirements of the complaints legislation and IOPC statutory guidance
The external body assesses all reviews in line with relevant complaints legislation and statutory guidance; and all recommendations are quality assured by the Deputy Chief Executive in the PCC’s office. Where matters are complex, the Deputy Chief Executive will engage with subject matter experts and policy leads for complaints legislation to ensure all aspects of the review have been appropriately dealt with.
All review outcome letters sent to complainants set out the findings of the review against key criteria within the complaints legislation and the IOPC statutory guidance. The PCC’s office will notify PSD of any formal recommendations or learning identified through a complaint review. To date, PSD have responded positively to the majority of recommendations made by the PCC’s office. This provides further reassurance that decisions to uphold reviews are sound and in line with complaints legislation.
Staff within the PCC’s team have received training inputs on complaints legislation from the Home Office, the IOPC and independent training providers. This includes continuous professional development (CPD) inputs for decision makers to ensure knowledge of relevant legislation is up to date and review decisions are sound. A PCC representative also regularly attends national PCC and IOPC complaint network meetings to identify best practice and support continual development of the function.
How the PCC assesses complainant satisfaction with the way in which they have dealt with complaints
There is no direct measure of satisfaction with the reviews process. All reviews are considered in line with complaints legislation and statutory guidance. This may mean that some complainants do not receive the outcome they had hoped for. In a minority of cases, this results in individual who are dissatisfied with the outcome of their complaint review re-entering the system by submitting additional correspondence or requests to engage in other statutory processes (e.g. Freedom of Information (FOI) and Subject Access Requests (SARs)).
In all cases, further correspondence and requests are dealt with in line with relevant legislation and local /national policies. All attempts are made to constructively and sympathetically engage with individuals who are not satisfied with their complaint review, however review decisions can only be challenged by Judicial Review. No complainant has applied for a Judicial Review to date.
The complaint review upheld rate for the current year-to-date (01 April 2023 – 19 October 2023) is 11% (5 out of 43 reviews). This is a reduction on the previous year but in line with proportions in 2020 and 2021. There was a considerable uplift in reviews upheld in 2022/23 and the recent return to expected levels suggests that the learning shared with PSD over the last 12 months has led to improvements in local complaint handling. The statistics should provide assurance to the public that there is a robust reviews process in place, and that in the majority of cases, the public is receiving a reasonable and proportionate response to their complaints from PSD. However, where this is not the case, the reviews system is clearly identifying areas for remedy and improvement which are being accepted and actioned by the force.