We stand in solidarity with George Floyd’s family and friends, the people of Minneapolis, and everyone who continues to challenge racism, discrimination and inequality. This is not the type of policing practice anyone wishes to see under any circumstances.
Police officers have significant powers that can impact on people’s liberty and lives. In the UK, our model of policing is based on consent. With this must come accountability. It is vital that the public have confidence that those powers are not abused.
We have a strong and very different system of police accountability to that in the United States. It is not a perfect system and there is still much room for improvement, but it is a system based on independent scrutiny, accountability and learning.
Our mission as the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is clear – to improve public confidence in policing by ensuring the police are accountable for their actions and lessons are learnt. While we are part of a bigger system to ensure police accountability, our role is independent of government and the police.
When someone is seriously injured or there is a death following police contact, the IOPC will investigate. We also investigate police conduct, ranging from neglect of duty to serious corruption and we have oversight of the whole police complaints system. Our investigations are independent and impartial.
During the last 15 years, we have published data providing an official record of deaths following police contact, setting out the number of such deaths, the circumstances in which they happen, and the underlying factors. It is of critical importance that we analyse the circumstances of each and identify if there are lessons to be learnt in the hope that we can prevent future deaths from occurring.
Our work has influenced policing practice in many ways, from improved training to changes in policy; however, we also know there is more to do.
Right now, communities in the UK are expressing real and growing concerns about disproportionality. Only two weeks ago we highlighted increasing community concerns about the use of Taser. We are also hearing concerns about stop and search and, most recently, fines issued during lockdown being disproportionate to black people.
There must be more research to understand issues of disproportionality, as well as assurance and scrutiny around tactics like use of force and stop and search.
It is also incumbent on the wider police service to listen and respond to the concerns being raised. The effectiveness of the police service depends on community support.
The genesis of the IOPC’s work was the murder of Stephen Lawrence, an intrinsic part of our DNA as an organisation. People believed that the police investigated Stephen’s murder differently to other cases simply because he was black.
One of the recommendations from the Macpherson inquiry into Stephen’s murder was “that the home secretary, taking into account the strong expression of public perception in this regard, consider what steps can and should be taken to ensure that serious complaints against police officers are independently investigated. Investigation of police officers by their own or another police service is widely regarded as unjust and does not inspire public confidence.”
Since then, in the UK, this means that serious public complaints, conduct matters and death or serious injury matters arising from police action or inaction can be investigated independently by a state body that is separate from the police service in England and Wales.
Our commitment remains to work with those who share a common desire for systemic and cultural change so we do not repeat mistakes from the past.
The tragic death of George Floyd reminds us of the ongoing need to provide rigorous independent scrutiny, to always ask questions, to find answers, to be open to change and to seek the truth.
Michael Lockwood is the director general of the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC)
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