The police: unaccountable and above the law

Have you heard of the IOPC (Independent Office of Police Conduct)? Of course you have. We all have. And although few of us have ever called upon their services, we have been assured by those in the know, that they are there to help us if we have a complaint about the police.

We know the IOPC deals with complaints, obviously, because it says so in their title. It also contains the word ‘Independent’, so that’s good, right? That must mean they are not affiliated with the police in any way and won’t favour them over a member of the public. And the police, knowing that this huge factory of justice is watching over them, will always strive to be on their best behaviour.


Wrong!  There is no independent commission overseeing police complaints, and worst of all, unless you bring a private prosecution, you can’t even have a criminal allegation recorded against a police officer.

The function of the IOPC and the police complaints process is greatly misconceived and few people seem to realise just how untouchable, unaccountable and above the law, police officers are in Britain.

The truth about the IOPC
Forget whatever you have heard about the IOPC. They do not and will not handle complaints about the police from the general public. Nor do they oversee complaints or handle appeals. They will allow you to send complaints to them, but they won’t so much as glance at them. The IOPC serve as nothing more than a redistribution centre for minor complaints, and a public relations salvage operation for complaints that might result in news headlines.

If you have an issue with the police, not only will the IOPC decline to help, they will redirect you, or your complaint, to the very force you are complaining about. In most cases, unless the complaint is deemed serious enough, it won’t even make it to the official police complaints department (aka The Professional Standards). Instead it will be redirected to a senior officer situated in the same department of the employee you are complaining about. Someone who, in all likelihood, will be both a colleague and a friend of the subject of the complaint. This is the fate of at least 75% of all complaints made against the force.  

The army of justice warriors at the IOPC holding the police to account, doesn’t exist at all. The IOPC will only trouble themselves with a tiny fraction of complaints that concern matters such as death in custody, serious corruption and newspaper headlines. And, contrary to their title, they are not interested in impartiality and independence. Over one third of all staff employed by the IOPC are ex-police officers, the majority of whom are employed as adjudicators: Senior staff whose job it is to uphold or reject complaints.

The primary aim of both the IOPC and the police complaints system is to protect the reputation of the force at all costs. As a secondary measure, they aim to ensure that any officer complained about escapes unscathed, unless it would be of serious detriment to the force to protect him or her. Little wonder that almost everyone that uses the police complaints process comes away disillusioned and empty handed.

How the police are above the law
Not only does the complaints process seek to absolve all officers from blame, it also acts as an internal justice system that runs parallel to our own, ensuring that police employees can escape misconduct charges as well as dodge criminal charges. Effectively, the police complaints process elevates all police officers above the law. 

Any crime reported against a police officer is automatically recorded as an official complaint under the Police Reform Act. No arrest will be made or criminal investigation pursued. Instead it will land on the desk of the Professional Standards Department, whose priority will be to minimise the complaint and dispose of the allegations as rapidly as possible. Criminal allegations made against the police are automatically downgraded to civil complaints.

Unlike with crimes committed by a member of the public, the police are granted the benefit of the doubt when it comes to allegations made against them and it will be up to their own colleagues to decide upon the legitimacy of those allegations. This means the foxes aren’t just in charge of the coop, they run the entire farmyard, effectively giving the police unimpeded opportunity to excuse an officer from wrongdoing no matter how incriminating and conclusive the evidence is against him.

If you have any experience with the police complaints process you will know one thing: a police officer is never wrong. Even in the face of indisputable proof. A benefit of the doubt afforded exclusively to the police by the police. When it comes to the complaints process, if a police officer breaks the law it will be excused as a ‘misunderstanding’, a ‘mistake’ or a ‘lapse in judgement’. When you or I break the law it will be regarded as outright criminality.