Police watchdog warns existing powers may be insufficient to restore confidence
SCOTLAND'S first independent police complaints commissioner has warned he may need tougher powers to restore public confidence in the service.
Jim Martin told The Scotsman that he would know "within a year" whether the powers given to him by the Scottish Parliament are sufficient to ensure major improvements are made to the way complaints against the police are handled and quality of service.
The Police Complaints Commission for Scotland (PCCS) was set up by Scottish Executive to ensure that non-criminal complaints against the police were overseen by a completely independent body.
Announcing his appointment last November, Cathy Jamieson, the then justice minister, said it was "vital" that the public has confidence in the police service. "Modernising Scotland's police complaints system and making it fully transparent for those who need it is an important element in that work," she said.
But Mr Martin's role has been branded "toothless" in some quarters, largely because, unlike in England and Wales, Scotland's police forces remain responsible for investigating complaints from the public against individual officers, with the commissioner's remit restricted to reviewing complaint-handling and working with police to ensure that correct procedures are in place.
The new body takes over responsibility for the role from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary, which is traditionally headed by a former chief constable.
Speaking publicly for the first time since assuming his role five weeks ago, Mr Martin - the former head of the teaching union EIS - declared that he wanted Scotland to be "at the front of complaint handling in the world". But he admitted time would tell whether Scotland was in fact left with a second-rate system.
"I have read things about this being a toothless body and all that kind of stuff. I think the proof of that will be in the pudding. It will be in the first year.
"Because I want to go down a route of openness, I intend to speak as I find. Where I think change needs to happen, I will be quite vocal in saying that.
"If that doesn't happen I will be quite vocal in saying that to ministers."
He added: "If I formed a view that more powers were needed then I would say so as time goes by, but the time to judge this isn't now."
He admitted there was a perception that "people were unhappy with police investigating police".
"They wanted independence. I want independence but I also want the system to be as open as possible, as transparent as possible and I want it to be seen to be fair. That means some things will have to change."
An overhaul of the way police complaints are handled was badly needed to end "witchhunts" against individual officers and ensure the service learns from its mistakes, he claimed.
"I want to shift away from what I see as being a blame culture, which means if you get a complaint against the police someone must have been doing something wrong, therefore police investigate that wrongdoing.
"I think that's the wrong approach. What people want to see is the police service improved. When they make a complaint, what they are really looking for is for police to listen and take action to make things better. They're less concerned, I think, in witchhunts against individual police officers," he said.
Mr Martin said complaints were often taking "an inordinate amount of time" to resolve and pledged to speed the system up. He has already received 26 complaints from the public against seven of the country's eight forces, and revealed he would also be responsible for investigating the way complaints are handled by the British Transport Police, the Border and Immigration Agency and Ministry of Defence police.
Mr Martin said he would personally supervise investigation reviews and warned chief constables that if they did not address any concerns raised, he would bring the matter to the attention of Scotland's next justice minister and the wider public.
While he is contracted to work about eight days a month, at a cost of 320 per day, he said he expected to be working "virtually full-time" and promised to build a staff big enough to deal with the volume of complaints.
JIM MARTIN ON...
"Sometimes the police may come across as difficult to engage with, and I can understand the reasons for that.
"I think the police need to modernise their approach to the public just a little."
"The IPCC is a completely different body with different powers.
"I'm anxious to learn from any model which I think works.
"But just because it operates down south, it doesn't necessarily make it right for Scotland."
"Instinctively, I would expect to see communities reflected in our police service. A lot of police time is being given into how they can achieve this.
"That is something we will certainly be looking into on the complaints handling side."
"I want to shift away from what I see as being a blame culture, which means if you get a complaint against the police, someone must have been doing something wrong, therefore police investigate that wrongdoing.
"I think that's the wrong approach."
"I don't come in with an agenda. I'm not going to start firing off in all different directions then start trying to find information to back it up.
"I want to study what I see on the ground first, then decide if there's something I want to say - and find the most effective way to say it."
Two countries, two distinct ways of dealing with complaints from the public
THE Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland has the power to review complaint handling to examine how a matter has been dealt with.
He is then able to direct the police to reconsider a complaint. The commissioner also has general responsibility for ensuring police bodies have proper procedures in place for handling complaints.
He will carry out a national overview of standards and consistency in the way police handle complaints. The commissioner will only consider the way non-criminal complaints are handled. Criminal complaints will continue to be referred directly to the Crown Office.
South of the Border, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPPC) has overall responsibility for the police complaints system.
Investigators have all the powers of a police constable when carrying out independent investigations.
People can make complaints either to individual police forces or directly to the IPCC.
The commission also carries out independent investigations into serious incidents or allegations of misconduct by persons serving with the police.
Investigations carried out by the IPCC include the shooting by Metropolitan police officers of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes. It will also look into the murder of Scottish police officer Richard Gray in Shrewsbury at the hands of gun fanatic Peter Medlicott on Sunday.
The body also investigates allegations of police racism, corruption and perverting the course of justice.
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