The greatest number of complaints since the opening of the Police Ombudsman’s office was recorded against officers in Northern Ireland last year.
The highest number of allegations originated from city centre arrests and an increased 4% involved parades and demonstrations, the Policing Board said. The total of complaints of oppressive behaviour rose by more than a quarter.
Board member Jonathan Craig said: “The committee is concerned at the significant rise in complaints against the police, which is the highest number of complaints recorded by the Ombudsman’s Office since they opened in 2000.
“Indeed, the level of complaints has risen by 14% in 2013/14 when the number had been decreasing since 2009/10.”
A total of 3,734 complaints and 6,089 allegations were made against the PSNI in 2013/14. That year the ombudsman found policing issues of concern in almost a fifth of complaints which had been fully investigated.
The greatest proportion of allegations surrounded failures in duty and there was an increase in the number of complaints surrounding arrests.
Since the start of the flags protest in December 2012 there were 280 complaints involving public protests.
Following one investigation recently published by the ombudsman, three police officers, who failed to deal promptly or properly with a case of alleged fraud, were disciplined by the PSNI.
The case was brought to the attention of police by a woman who believed she was the victim of fraudulent actions by her ex-husband. Nine months after reporting it, following increasing frustration with the way the case had been handled by the police, the woman contacted the ombudsman’s office to complain.
As well as accusing the police of an inadequate investigation she alleged that they had not kept her sufficiently updated on its progress.
The board said following concerns raised about levels of police incivility, the PSNI took action in 2010 leading to a decrease in the number of allegations. However, the volume of claims rose 6% on the previous year.
Mr Craig chairs the board’s performance committee.
He said: “What concerns this committee also is the significant increase in the number of complaints of oppressive behaviour, which rose last year by 29%.
“While complaints indicate that people are engaging with the policing structures, it is vital that police officers ensure that they are consistently compliant with the code of ethics so that our community gets the best possible policing service which they can have confidence in.
“We expect nothing less of police officers and value the independent procedures in place to deal with complaints.”
The ombudsman is independent from the police service and deals with complaints about the conduct of officers. It was established as part of the Patten reforms of policing.
Ombudsman research indicated that awareness of the office has been high since 2002, however the current level of awareness has decreased since 2010.
A PSNI spokesman said: “Chief Superintendent Chris Noble, head of Professional Standards, today met with members of the NIPB’s Performance Committee to brief them on the increase in complaints to the Police Ombudsman in the last financial year. He outlined a number of factors which may account for the increase in the complaints and assured the Board as to the PSNI strategy to reduce complaints.
Mr Noble said: “As a service, we are committed to policing with the community and recognise the critical role the Ombudsman has in police accountability and increasing public confidence in the PSNI.
“An increase in complaints, whilst showing confidence in the complaints system, also gives the service cause to reflect, learn and improve on our engagement with the public and how we deliver our service.
“The PSNI is one of the most accountable police services in the world and we expect our officers and staff to behave professionally, ethically and with the utmost integrity at all times.
“Any perception or allegation that we have fallen short of the high standards expected, is treated with the utmost seriousness.
“During the financial year of 2013/2014 police recorded and dealt with nearly half a million reports of incidents and, whilst only a relatively small number of these interactions resulted in a complaint, we are not complacent about the increase we have seen this year.
“Police, in conjunction with the Ombudsman’s Office, track and monitor complaints on a constant basis, analyse the reasons for such trends and respond as they arise.
“We also report to the Northern Ireland Policing Board to ensure they are fully briefed on complaint levels and trends and most importantly what the Police Service is doing to address them.
“Action is being taken to address the rise in complaints and we will be reporting back to the Policing Board.”