Police officers in the North are increasingly recognising that the Police Ombudsman who investigates public complaints against them is fair and independent, according to a report published today.
But the report said Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan should do more to win over detectives in the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Kit Chivers, chief inspector of criminal justice in the North, said in his first inspection report on the Ombudsman’s office that it was an efficient, effective and tightly managed organisation.
He said the Ombudsman had worked hard to build confidence among the public and the police.
He said: “There is an increasing recognition among the police that the Office is fair and independent and does a useful job by exonerating officers who have been unfairly complained against as well as identifying those guilty of misconduct.”
But he urged the Ombudsman’s office to do more to “confirm its reputation” with officers working in CID.
He recommended that the Ombudsman should aim to give more presentations to CID officers, adding that senior PSNI officers had a responsibility to encourage their officers to attend.
Mr Chivers also said he had some concerns about relations between the Ombudsman’s office and other relevant agencies – but he recognised that all concerned shared responsibility for improving matters.
He recommended the Police Ombudsman should “engage afresh with all the interested parties” to establish a better understanding about her role.
But he added: “All the bodies concerned have a duty to make their best efforts to engage.”
Summing up a report which he called “largely positive”, Mr Chivers said: “The work of the Police Ombudsman remains immensely important.
“Its work is difficult and sensitive because of the subject matter it deals with. The challenge now is to move beyond the old arguments and to view the Office objectively as a vital, impartial service to policing and to the community.”
Looking at the value for money of the Ombudsman’s office, he said the task of examining police complaints in Northern Ireland was unique and comparisons with other police complaints systems was likely to be misleading.
However, he did not accept the annual budget of around £8m (€11.7m) was excessively expensive.
“Devoting around 1% of the cost of policing to providing a genuinely independent police complaints service cannot be regarded as disproportionate,” he concluded.
Welcoming the report, Mrs O’Loan said she was addressing and would continue to address his recommendations for improvement.
She said: “I am pleased with the report’s findings, and in particular that the inspector found that the work we do represents value for money.”
Mrs O’Loan added: “He has made a series of recommendations, some of which we have already begun work on. We will give the other recommendations serious consideration.”
Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Hain welcomed the report which, he said, recognised the “excellent progress” made by the Ombudsman’s Office towards fulfilling its important role.
Mr Hain said he regarded the positive report as further evidence that the Ombudsman and her staff “continue to provide an effective and independent police complaints system in Northern Ireland”.