It is right that the public has a mechanism to hold the police to account, but officers themselves must also have confidence in it, the EuroCOP President has said.
Calum Steele, who is also General Secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, was speaking at the Catalan Parliament today about police oversight bodies, particularly in Scotland.
He said that many countries insisted that the independence of an oversight body was the most important thing, but it was also vital it was effective and instilled confidence in the public and police officers.
There was also a constant debate about the budgets allocated to oversight bodies, Calum said: “Should governments be putting more budget into investigating officers than they do for officers to investigate crime? Resources are not unlimited.”
He told the panel that in 2013, when Scotland moved from having eight regional forces to one single unified force under Police Scotland, its oversight system changed.
It used to be that if a police officer was involved in an incident or was the subject of a public complaint, a Chief Constable from another force would carry out an independent review. But now the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) carries out such investigations in Scotland.
Calum agreed with PIRC’s policy of recruiting retired officers to work as investigators, as they brought with them a wealth of experience and skills. He also said it was good for the public that the Commissioner published its findings, including recommendations. But Calum said: “It’s important to state that I always believe that, when it comes to policing decisions, the Chief Constable should have independence.”
Calum also felt not enough was being done about malicious complaints against officers. He said: “[Malicious complaints] cause concern and anxiety to officers. There is not enough effort from these bodies to deal with malicious complainers. [These complaints] distort the statistics and there should be protection for officers on the wrong side of these illegitimate complaints.”
He believed data should be published to show the public how many complaints there had been against officers, and also how many of those were upheld and how many dropped.
After a rocky start, Calum said the PIRC had “found its correct operating level, giving the public confidence and police service confidence too”.
He continued: “Like the police themselves, the PIRC doesn’t always get it right. But things have got better and those relationships are back – the new Commissioner is professional and we can have healthy disagreements with each other.”
He added: “There is no perfect oversight system – it will always be subject to some sort of criticism.”