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More than one in five police officers urged to face sanctions

The Police Ombudsman's Office, headed by Dr Michael Maguire, has recommended sanctions against more than one in five police officers in the past five years. Picture by Hugh Russell 
John Monaghan

THE Police Ombudsman has recommended disciplinary action or sanctions against an average of 300 police officers every year since 2010.

The Ombudsman has made recommendations against a total of 1,484 police officers in the last five years out of the 6,780-strong force.

The PSNI described the figure as "concerning" but added that it was working to reduce the number of complaints made to the Ombudsman, which have averaged around 3,300 per year - nine every day - since 2010.

Figures reveal that 380 police officers were referred for sanctions by the Ombudsman’s office in the 12 months to March this year alone.

The total for 2014/15 was almost two-thirds more than the previous year and the highest since 2011/12, when 359 officers were recommended to face disciplinary measures.

Sanctions recommended by the Ombudsman include informal misconduct, such as advice and guidance or a superintendent’s written warning, and more serious formal disciplinary proceedings.

Formal measures taken can include a caution, a fine, a reduction in pay and in certain cases dismissal, according to figures contained under a Freedom of Information request.

In its annual statistical report for 2014/15, the Ombudsman's office said that it had recommended that a police officer face prosecution on 12 occasions last year.

The Ombudsman's office said that 3,300 complaints were received in 2014/15, a decrease of 10 per cent from the previous year when complaints spiked in the fall-out from Union flag protests.

The Ombudsman’s report also noted: "A processing issue at a custody suite in one police station may have led to a rise in the overall number of complaints recorded."

Figures show that 73 officers with "three or more complaints" on their record were formally investigated or dealt with by way of an informal resolution in March this year, the annual report added.

The vast majority of complaints received last year related to allegations of a failure of duty by police, with more than half of those connected to "the conduct of police investigations or police response to incidents."

Allegations of incivility, oppressive behaviour and discriminatory behaviour all saw a major fall from the previous year.

The current policing plan has a target for the PSNI to reduce the number of failure in duty allegations by 2 per cent on last year.

However, the 380 referrals for sanctions or disciplinary actions last year represented a two-thirds increase on the figure for 2013/14.

The bulk of the recommendations related to more advice and guidance required, while formal disciplinary proceedings were recommended against four officers.

Last week, it emerged two police officers had been disciplined over a failure to properly investigate an assault on a woman outside a bar.

The woman told police she had been punched in the face by a man in an unprovoked attack as she left a bar in Co Derry in autumn 2014.

The Police Ombudsman's office upheld a complaint by the woman, who said that police had failed to interview witnesses and potential suspects, despite being given their names, and had not kept her updated with the progress of the investigation.

Police said that its staff deal with around 1,338 calls daily and that "unfortunately, on occasions the service delivered can fall short of what should be expected."

Detective Inspector Cleland Rogers said: "Where it is alleged that conduct falls short of these high standards, it is right that officers should face an impartial, rigorous investigation by the Police Ombudsman’s office and the PSNI fully support this."

"The public expect police officers to fulfil their duty, fairly and professionally.

Inspector Rogers added: "The number of complaints made to the Police Ombudsman is concerning, however we will continue to work to reduce this figure, and are pleased that there was a 10 per cent reduction in the number of complaints made against police officers to the Police Ombudsman during the 2014/15 financial year."

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