New police complaints office to be staffed with two investigators

Around 10 “serious complaints” are made about police every year, according to an analysis of the likely workload of a new police complaints unit by the Deputy Governor’s Office.

The data appears in an appendix to the business case for the new ombudsman’s office, which also suggests an average of around 100 more “routine complaints” are filed annually against the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.

Government plans to include two dedicated posts for investigators in the new office to look into the more serious complaints against police.

Peter Gough, strategic adviser in the Deputy Governor’s Office, said the unit would provide, for the first time, a completely independent means of investigating police complaints.

He hopes the move will go some way toward addressing public concerns about police accountability.

In two recent high-profile cases, the relatives of victims have expressed concern about internal investigations into allegations of police misconduct.

The family of five boaters, lost at sea since early March, called for a public, independent judicial inquiry into the circumstances of the police rescue effort in that incident. The Governor’s Office announced last week that the U.K. Maritime and Coastguard Agency would carry out an investigation.

Similarly, the family of a 20-year-old motorcyclist seriously injured after a police chase called for an independent investigation into the circumstances of that incident.

Mr. Gough said the police complaints officers in the new ombudsman’s office would be the starting point for those type of complaints. He said they would have the ability to call in more resources in particularly serious cases and would have the authority to refer cases directly to the Department of Public Prosecutions if necessary.

“There is quite a bit of mistrust out there when you read the blogs and look at some of the surveys that have been done,” he said, adding that people fear there will be consequences or “that it will be swept under the carpet” if they complain about the police.

Whether or not that perception is fair, it is harmful to the process, Mr. Gough said.

He said he believes police leadership also want complaints to be investigated independently.

“It improves customer confidence in the police, and I think it will actually improve morale in the police,” he said.

The Police Law, 2010, calls for an independent Police Complaints Authority to be established. Mr. Gough said the law would have to be tweaked for the functions to be absorbed into the ombudsman’s office, but he insists this is not a half-measure.

He said combining the administrative and back-office functions of the Office of the Complaints Commissioner, the Information Commissioner’s Office and the new police complaint’s department, frees up funding to pay investigators’ salaries.

Statistics from the police service’s internal Professional Standards Unit, which currently has responsibility for investigating such complaints, suggest the work would be manageable for two investigators, said Mr. Gough, though he expects the number of complaints to rise once the public realizes there is an independent investigatory body.

The investigators in the ombudsman’s office would take charge of the more serious complaints, as well as review the Professional Standards Unit’s response to the more minor cases and act as an appeals body for complainants.

He said the type of complaints range from the time it takes officers to arrive and take a report, to more serious allegations such as violence by a police officer or carrying out a search without a warrant.

The planned ombudsman’s office will have a wide remit, ranging from investigating disputes over access to public records to policing data protection legislation, with distinct technical officers for each area. As it stands, the plan is to have two police complaints investigators, two maladministration investigators and three Freedom of Information officers.

Four more officers could be added if data protection legislation is passed.

Exactly what background and qualifications the police investigators will have is still to be determined.

Mr. Gough said hiring former police officers raised concerns about true independence when it was tried in the U.K.

“There were concerns about the collegiate relationship between ex-policemen and serving officers. Now they have moved more towards independent investigators who are not police and they are in turn training young lawyers to do the job.

“I think that would be preferable,” Mr. Gough said.