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Complaints Exceed Police Officer Numbers In Some UK Forces

Police complaints have risen to a record high (alamy)

3 min read

A number of police forces have recorded as many or more complaints than they have officers, as the number of complaints within forces are set to reach a record high this year.

PoliticsHome analysed figures for every UK police force from the latest release of data by the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) and found on average 547 complaint allegations were logged per 1,000 police staff.

At some forces, the figure was far higher. Nationwide, 14 police forces logged more than 700 allegations per 1,000 officers.

Cleveland Police in the northeast of England logged 1,232 allegations per 1,000 staff.

Cleveland Police was previously described by officials as the country’s worst performing force and was placed in special measures four years ago by regulators. Superintendent John Miller of Cleveland Police’s Directorate of Standards & Ethics told PoliticsHome the force “welcomes feedback from the public” and said it was pleased “people have the confidence in the police complaints process to come forward”.

Miller added that the volume of complaints was indicative of the “high numbers” of crime calls and reports. “Whilst the number of complaints received may appear disproportionate per thousand employees, it is proportionate with the volume of incidents to which the force responds,” he said.

A Cleveland Police spokesperson added that the force’s IOPC-backed internal complaint processes mean they record complaints differently and more frequently than other forces.

Durham Constabulary recorded 986 allegations per 1,000 officers. A spokesperson for Durham Constabulary stressed that they “meet regularly with the IOPC” and that all complaints they receive are “reviewed, recorded and dealt with in an appropriate manner”.

The overall 134,952 allegations relating to 81,142 complaints registered in the 2022-2023 period represent a record high number of complaints, and the data for the first three months of 2023-2024 suggests those figures are set to rise.

PoliticsHome found that 36,483 allegations had been logged nationwide between April and June, an almost 5,000 case rise (16 per cent) compared to the same period last year (31,538).

“These figures highlight what we already know: police misconduct is not confined to the Met or other large forces, it is a problem infecting forces across England and Wales,” said Rebecca Dooley, legal advocacy officer for policing accountability group Stop Watch.

“It is also not surprising that the numbers of police complaints continue to rise – the public are tired of continuously hearing stories of officers abusing their powers and not being held accountable.

“Yet it is unlikely that more complaints will lead to more accountability as the complaints process remains woefully incapable of adequately punishing officers for wrongdoing.”

An IOPC spokesperson said that there has been a trend for complaint figures to rise every year since 2020, when the definition of a complaint was shifted to mean that "any expression of dissatisfaction” was recorded as a complaint.

“Increases can indicate that more people have confidence to engage in the complaints system. As the new system continues to be embedded across police forces, the data should still be treated as experimental to acknowledge it remains in the testing phase and comparisons with previous years should be treated with caution,” they added.

“Figures for complaints and allegations recorded by individual forces will vary. We publish guidance to police forces on complaint recording and handling to promote consistency. We have constructive relationships with police force professional standards departments (PSDs) who we hold to account for their performance in complaint handling.”

A Home Office spokesperson stressed the change in definition of a complaint in 2020 and that “by law, each complaint must be handled in a reasonable and proportionate manner”.

They added those unhappy with how a complaint has been handled can apply for an independent review and that the “vast majority of complaints about the police are about the delivery of duties and service and do not concern misconduct”.


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