From their investigations into Met mistakes such as John Worboys, or the G20 demonstrations and the Territorial Support Group, what should we expect from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC)? Is the failure to change bad cultures within the police really their fault?
The police’s mishandling of the cases of the serial rapists Worboys and Kirk Reid are terrible examples of what happens when the culture of the police service is wrong.
How is it possible to read the survivors’ accounts of how they were treated by the police without feeling that the Met failed dozens of women through professional incompetence and a lack of basic courtesy or humanity? One 21-year-old said she had been “lied to and laughed at” by officers.
And now we have the IPCC report into the Worboys case, which offers its ideas on discipline for the officers. Despite evidence not being gathered, witnesses not being interviewed, and evidence of officer prejudice about the likelihood of the offence – ie black cabbies are a good bunch who wouldn’t carry drugs or alcohol in their cabs, but women lie about rape – despite all this and Worboys being let loose to rape more women, the IPCC suggests a written warning will act as a wake up call to the Met. I can already hear the sound of snoring in police canteens.
The Worboy officers were part of a specialised Sapphire unit. Project Sapphire was set up to break the culture of women not being believed in rape cases. The whole strategy of the Met’s senior management was that these specialist Sapphire officers, based in the boroughs, would be retrained and adopt a new progressive culture free of prejudice. It clearly didn’t work well enough and part of that is that the training has to keep pace with a fast turnover in staff drawn from the wider pool of officers who still have the unreformed attitudes shared by the population at large.
Several months ago the commissioner had to face a disappointed and angry Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA), which contains people like myself who have been around long enough to have heard promises from the two previous commissioners that the problem was now being fixed. He responded to our criticisms by promising that the borough-based Sapphire teams would be centralised and given increased resources for rape cases.
Which brings us back to the role of the IPCC in raising the bar of professional standards within the police service. The reason we have an IPCC is because the public feel the police are often reluctant to take the necessary action to deal with problems in their own closed ranks. While Sir Paul Stephenson has introduced “intrusive supervision”, it is a brave commissioner who starts sacking officers as part of a necessary reform process. The MPA can systematically monitor the police, set priorities and take decisions on resources, but isn’t involved in disciplining anyone below Acpo (Association of Chief Police Officers) rank. Which leaves the IPCC with the job of sending out a clear message about what is acceptable behaviour.
Of eight Worboys officers investigated by the IPCC, the sanctions it suggests are two written warnings and three “words of advice” – no disciplinary hearings, or sacking them, or demotion and retraining.
File on Four, on Radio 4, told us that the IPCC only directly investigated a tiny proportion of complaints against police last year – just 88 of more than 31,000. On one level that is reasonable, but coupled with the following statement from a former commissioner, you have to wonder if they are doing the job they were created for. The IPCC “has not produced any significant change that anyone can point to in the fairness and rigour of the police complaints system” said ex-commissioner John Crawley.
If you have any doubts about the failure of the IPCC and the MPA to have an impact on the closed ranks of the police service then consider this. Last year, the MPA was told privately that 1,183 officers and staff had abused Met credit cards without breaking the law. But due to “the volume of files involved” there was no formal discipline sanction, with only some retraining and guidance on their use. At one point £3.7m of public money spent on credit cards was unaccounted for. Lucky they weren’t politicians.
Rape is only one example of a bad attitudes getting in the way of the police doing a professional job. The death of Ian Tomlinson and the mishandling of the G20 demonstrations arose partly from a problem that had taken hold within the culture of public order policing. The case of Babar Ahmad highlighted a problem with the culture of the Territorial Support Group, when he was awarded £60,000 by the Met after being punched, kicked, stamped on and strangled by TSG officers at his home in Tooting. Of the 70 separate complaints recorded against the group of officers involved, only one was complaint was substantiated and no further investigation was undertaken, in spite of the sizeable settlement.
All these stories do lend themselves to asking whether the Met is virtually invulnerable to confessing and mopping up its mistakes. As a Police Authority member, I am infuriated by the sums paid out because of Met blundering incompetence.
However, when the dust has settled, and the Met has paid out compensation if it has to, and dealt with those officers, the single most important question for me and for many others will be, will the survivors of Worboys’s rapes and assaults, all those women whose bodies were invaded, lives turned upside down, emotionally and socially traumatised, will they accept that the Met has treated them fairly, heard their concerns, and treated those officers as they deserved?
read full article at the Guardian website http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jan/21/feeble-action-police-complaints-worboys