Posted: Monday 1st June 2020
For Volunteers’ Week we spoke to Chair of the Independent Residents’ Panel, Simon Barnes, acting as a critical friend to Avon and Somerset Police, the Panel review and scrutinise complaints against the police.
What do the Independent Residents’ Panel (IRP) do?
The IRP, of which I am currently chair, was set up by PCC Sue Mountstevens in 2013 and is the first and as far as I know, the only panel of its kind. The IRP is made up of people from all walks of life, we meet four times a year to review complaints against Avon and Somerset Police. At each of our meetings we have a general theme such as incivility, mistaken identity or use of force. The complaints which we review are selected on a random basis by a computer, so when we open a file we have no idea whether it will be a year long investigation into serious misconduct, or a more simple case about dissatisfaction with the service received.
We have completely unrestricted access to the complaint file and all of the underlying information, so we leave no stone unturned. Although we act as a critical friend to the police, our job is a positive one. When we review files, we are not just looking for negative points but also examples of best practice which can be distributed to officers and staff.
We can focus on any aspect of the complaint that we choose, and I tend to find that different members will focus on different things, so we get a good mixture of views. Our meetings are attended by a senior officer from the police’s Professional Standards Department and a representative from the PCC’s team, they brief us on current issues and answer our questions. After each meeting we produce a written report, so that local people can see our findings and the answers we have received to our questions.
Why is your role important?
I think our role is important because the police have opened up what is a very sensitive area of their work to be scrutinised. Over the years we have seen improvements in many areas such as the quality of the communications between the officers and local people. We have also seen the introduction of new innovations, such as a procedure called ‘early intervention’ in which straightforward complaints of dissatisfaction, rather than officer misconduct, are dealt with quickly using a shortened procedure.
How has your role been impacted by lockdown?
Lockdown has certainly changed the way that we operate. Previously, we all travelled to Police headquarters in Portishead, but obviously that is not possible at the moment. So this month, with a lot of hard work from the PCC’s team, we are hosting our first virtual meeting. I am very much looking forward to seeing how that works for us as a panel and what we can learn from it to improve our own procedures.
What is the best part about being a volunteer?
This is my sixth year of volunteering in this role and I am still enjoying it! The work is fascinating and it has been a chance to meet new people and get involved in something which really makes a difference to how local people experience and interact with the police. There are lots of opportunities to volunteer with the police so if you’re interested then go for it, you won’t regret it!
Find out more about the IRP.
View reports from the IRP.