Complaints to police watchdog rise by 70%

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THERE has been a sharp rise in the number of allegations referred to the Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland, new figures have revealed.

Professor John McNeill said he received 533 referrals in 2010-11, up 70 per cent on 314 in the previous year.

However, he warned against interpreting the statistics as a sign of dissatisfaction with police.

“My staff have been working hard to increase awareness of my role and office, while at the same time police bodies have highlighted in their final responses to complainers a right of redress to my office,” he said.

Members of the public initially complain to the relevant police force.

If they are unhappy with the response they can refer it to the commissioner.

Prof McNeill found that 290 complaints – 54 per cent – in 2010-11 had been handled reasonably, down from 66 per cent the previous year.

The figures are a warning for police at a time when public satisfaction in their performance is generally high.

Crime has fallen to a 32-year low in Scotland with 1,000 extra officers on the streets providing visible reassurance.

John Lamont, the Scottish Conservatives justice spokesman, said: “My impression is that the general public is content with the performance of the police.

“Clearly these figures need to be looked at carefully, it may be down to greater awareness in the work of the commissioner.”

The commissioner has seen a steady rise in complaints, from 147 in 2007-08, to 288 the following year, to 314 in 2009-10.

Scotland’s forces varied greatly last year. Unsurprisingly, as the country’s largest force, Strathclyde Police received the largest number of complaints with 182 – up from 124 the previous year.

However, Lothian and Borders and Northern Constabulary saw sharper rises, from 7 to 58, and 25 to 92, respectively.

The Scottish Government has proposed replacing the commissioner with a Public Service Ombudsman, who would act as a watchdog for the broader public sector.

Chief Superintendent David O’Connor, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, said the commissioner’s growing role should ensure he is retained.

“We’re probably heading towards a single police service,” he said.

“I believe it’s imperative we maintain all the current checks and balances.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “As part of the police reform process we will ensure we have the best possible independent complaints system to meet the needs of a modern Scottish police service.”

Prof McNeill has been in post since August 2009, while the office itself came into being in April 2007.