Police on wrong end of 'complaint culture'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 May, 2010, 12:00am

More people are abusing the complaints system against police, according to the chairman of the independent police watchdog. He says among them are those who were at fault in the first place but who accuse officers of having attitude problems.

Jat Sew-tong, chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Council, said a working group had been set up to think of ways to deal with this trend. Options include streamlining the process of handling complaints, he said. The first meeting was held last week.

A total of 4,257 complaints against police were received last year, up from 2,672 in 2008. Of those, 80 per cent were minor cases concerning misconduct or neglect of duty.

All complaints are handled by the Complaints Against Police Office (Capo), the force's internal complaint-investigation unit. The council then reviews Capo's findings.

Jat said the city's 'complaining culture' was one of the factors that contributed to the increase. Another factor might be rising frustrations after the financial meltdown.

'It is getting more and more common for people to complain, even when they are the ones who are really at fault.' He said in one case a policeman was accused of having a bad attitude after being scolded non-stop for five minutes.

The council, which issued its first half-yearly online newsletter yesterday, announced that last year it had reviewed and endorsed the findings of 3,025 complaints - involving 5,055 allegations - 17.6 per cent up on 2008.

A total of 1,194 were fully investigated while the others were withdrawn, not pursuable or informally resolved. The proportion of unsubstantiated cases dropped from 65 per cent in 2008 to 50 per cent.

Jat said this was because the council raised 2,022 queries about Capo findings. Twenty-four investigation results were changed from 'unsubstantiated', 'no fault' or 'withdrawn' to 'fully or partially substantiated'.

The newsletter cited one case in which a shop owner accused a policeman of neglecting his duty by ordering him to drive away a vehicle without first making sure who owned it. When the owner said he would complain, the policeman told him that since there was no recording of what had happened and no evidence, this would be futile. The policeman's statement constituted misconduct, the owner said.

The policeman said he did ask the owner if the car belonged to him.

Capo ruled the case 'unsubstantiated', because it did not regard the only witness - the complainant's employee - to be independent. After the council said it was inappropriate to ignore the employee's testimony, Capo reviewed the case and found the employee to be trustworthy. The policeman was ruled guilty of misconduct but not guilty of neglect of duty.

In the firing line

Number of police complaints last year related to misconduct, improper manner or offensive language: 1,935