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Officers tied up by serial complainers; PETTY GRIPES COST THE REGION'S FORCES ALMOST pounds 220,000.

Byline: DAN WARBURTON

FRIVOLOUS gripes are tying up police time in red tape, it was claimed today.

Over the last three years nearly 4,400 complaints have been lodged with forces across the region - with just a tiny fraction substantiated.

In total only 131 complaints were upheld, representing 3% of all grievances, but nearly pounds 220,000 was paid out in compensation.

Now rank-and-file police leaders are saying the figures confirm fears that officers are being increasingly entangled in a giant web of bureaucracy.

Today Andrew Metcalfe, chairman of the Police Federation in Durham, claimed "persistent complainers" were chaining officers to their desks and hindering their work.

He said: "We deal with a lot of difficult people and quite a few of these frivolous complaints are made by the same person, who can call 16, 17, or 18 times about the same thing. But there are people who complain for no reason and tie up the police forces in red tape.

"Police should be out patrolling the streets when instead they are the subject of professional standards investigations, which are sometimes disproportionate."

Complaints against officers range from incidents of impoliteness and swearing, to investigations over improper sexual conduct and assault.

In one case, an investigation over the alleged breach of sexual conduct forced Northumbria Police to sack an officer. Over the last three years the force have forked out pounds 4,500 for causing "anxiety and stress" and more than pounds 30,000 for "trespassing."

Last year Glen Francis threatened legal action after threatening to stab four police officers in the heart, before saying he would launch legal action because a police sergeant swore at him.

The 35-year-old erupted in rage when officers arrived at his house, in Ambassador''s Way, North Shields.

He held an officer captive in his house for two hours and threatened to shoot her with a handgun he hid in a cupboard.

She escaped, but when back-up arrived, Francis lunged at the officers with a six-inch knife, before the 35-year-old was shot twice with a Taser gun.

Francis was charged with offences of false imprisonment, threats to kill and affray and during a trial at Newcastle Crown Court he was found guilty of affray and received a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years.

Following the incident, a sergeant was sent to a Management Advice course and Francis threatened civil action against Northumbria Police.

Former Chief Constable of Northumbria Police and former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord John Stevens called for an overhaul of the current system and said: "Often these investigations take an inordinate and ridiculous amount of time.

"The system needs to be short and sharp and there needs to be a proper system in place for when the police don't act in the way they should."

Acting Chief Supt Winton Keenen, from Northumbria Police's professional standards division, said: "The public quite rightly expects police officers and staff to behave with the highest standards of professionalism.

Where behaviour falls below that which is expected we have an open and transparent procedure.

"Complaints are independently investigated and monitored by Northumbria Police Professional Standards department and the IPCC to ensure appropriate, fair and proportionate action is taken.

"We are always striving to reduce the need for complaints by providing a professional and thorough service."

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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Apr 8, 2010
Words:561
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