According to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), more people have lodged complaints against Thames Valley Police in the last year than between 2008 and 2009.
Compared to the previous year, 2009-10 saw a 23 percent increase in the number of complaints against officers in the force which serves Oxford and surrounding areas.
In real terms the number of complaints rose to 1,167 last year (2009-10) from 947 in 2008-09.
The complaints contained on average more than one allegation. The watchdog has suggested this put the total number of allegations at 2,183, up by 15 percent from 2008-2009.
The most common allegations were those of neglect or of offices being rude or late.
Several reactions in the service were positive, seeing the complaints as highlighting areas for the improvement of policing.
Graham Smith, chairman of the Thames Valley Police Federation, a group representing police officers below the rank of superintendent, pointed out that the rise by 220 complaints represents, “less than one complaint a day”. He said that the police was willing to use this feedback to improve services: “If there are things we need to learn, then we’ll learn them.”
Deputy Chief Constable Francis Habgood agreed that complaints are important in raising standards. He said: “Thames Valley Police as a force cannot continue to improve the standard of service we provide to our communities if people do not let us know when they are unhappy.”
The IPCC Commissioner for the South East, Mike Franklin, commented that the force should not ignore the “higher than usual rise in complaints”. He said: “This is something that they need to look carefully at and understand the reasons why.”
While Thames Valley Police said that it would use the report to address community concerns, it also urged the community to be understanding of the challenges faced by police officers.
Habgood said: “Police officers are regularly placed in dangerous and highly stressful situations while keeping our communities safe. The challenge for these officers is to maintain the high standards of professionalism and service expected by members of the public while carrying out their duties.”
Smith commented: “In any democratic society you have a right to complain. Also, people’s perception of rudeness may vary, or an officer may have had no sleep.” He described this as “part of the role we have to carry out and we accept that”.
In the report published by the IPCC detailing the annual complaints statistics for all 43 police forces, complaints on a national level were up 8 percent on last year, to 33,854.
Franklin suggested the increase may simply reflect “improved access to and confidence in the complaints system” rather than a decrease in the quality of policing.