Police complaints review reveals tension at the top of Scottish policing

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP has today voiced concern about the concentration of power in a small number of policing posts, after a new review by Dame Elish Angiolini on police complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues highlighted tensions and poor communication at the top of Scottish policing.

The interim report highlights “sub-optimal relationships”, a “tone of cynicism” and failures in communication between the principal bodies controlling policing Scotland.

Other key findings of the report include:

  • There “may be merit” in continuing investigations into police officers after they have retired.
  • Misconduct proceedings may be undermined by the affinity of senior police officers and SPA Board members, which “could lead to actual or perceived partiality, or antipathy, when it comes to disciplinary matters in which any of those same officers might be involved as the officer under complaint, a supporter to a subject, or a witness.”
  • Failures in communication, and the “evident non-sharing of certain information between organisations” need to be addressed
  • Body worn cameras should be rolled out nationally to all police officers working in the custody environment or in a public-facing role.
  • Audits into low-level cases that are assessed within Police Scotland are not being conducted properly by PIRC, Police Scotland or the SPA. PIRC have completed no such audits since 2017, and those conducted by the SPA “have, until very recently, been superficial and inadequate”.
  • Police Scotland are failing to encourage a “learning culture, rather than a blame culture”

Liam McArthur commented:

“These are far from the first reports of tension and dysfunctional relationships between the core policing agencies.

“There shouldn’t be any trace of school ground cynicism between policing bodies who are ultimately working towards the same objective.

“Officers work tirelessly to keep our communities safe. They need to have confidence that management are working professionally and productively alongside each other and that checks and balances are working properly.

“It’s all too cosy at the top of Scottish policing. The SNP made a misstep when they centralised the police and put so much power into so few posts.”

Commenting on the recommendation to allow misconduct proceedings to operate even after an officer has resigned, Liam McArthur said:

“Extending misconduct investigations to cover those no longer in post is a sensible move. Our institutions have a duty of care. If there are concerns about an officer’s behaviour that should still be looked into even if they have moved on.”   

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