Police witnesses should be held to same rules as civilians following death or serious injury and not be allowed to confer, draft guidance states.
Officers who are witnesses to death or serious injury must abide by the same standards as civilian witnesses and not confer with each other before producing their statements, the police watchdog has said.
The Independent Police Complaints Commissionâ€™s (IPCC) draft guidance on post-incident procedures states that currently non-police witnesses are routinely warned not to discuss the incident either before or after they have given their accounts to preserve the integrity of the evidence. The document states that the same rules should apply to policing witnesses.
Additionally, from the moment it is operationally safe to do so, policing witnesses should be kept separate until their detailed individual factual account (DIFA) is obtained.
If officers need to discuss the incident with each other, it must be in exceptional circumstances to avert a real and immediate risk to life. They must then record the extent to which the conversation has taken place, the justification for doing so and the content of the conversation as soon as possible.
Chief Constable Mike Cunningham (pictured), national lead for professional standards, said that chief officers would need to carefully examine current guidance to see if it strikes the right balance between maintaining public confidence and the professional responsibility of the officers.
In an interview with PoliceOracle.com he said: â€œThe test is what is in the public interest. There is an understandable position that the service needs to ensure what we are doing enhances public confidence and that the public understands what we are doing.
â€œIt needs to be balanced with the professional responsibility of police officers in a very difficult situation. That will be a consideration we will work through.
â€œWe need to ensure that we have public confidence, give clarity to bereaved families on what happened and that we are helping the coronerâ€™s courts.
â€œIf the current guidance in place sufficiently provides all that then we would look to tighten the processes in place. If not then we will look at what the IPCC is proposing.â€
The draft document states that while it is accepted that no one can be compelled to give an account â€“ failure to do so could undermine public confidence.
It says: â€œThe public rightly expects that those who witness a death or serious injury, or incidents relating to it, whilst acting in a professional capacity, should co-operate fully with an investigation, offering up all relevant information in a prompt and open manner.
â€œFailure to do so damages not only the effectiveness of the investigation but also the publicâ€™s confidence in the Police Service.â€
However, Steve Evans, the Police Federationâ€™s lead for professional standards, said that there is no sufficient evidence or compelling reason to change the existing post incident procedures (PIP).
PIP is a recognised practice in the ACPO manual and the IPCC were part of several organisations involved in the development and formulation of the procedures.
Mr Evans said: â€œConferring should not be confused with the more sinister connotation of colluding and it must be recognised that when officers confer post incident they not only have to record that conferring has taken place, who they have conferred with and on what areas of the statement they have conferred on.
â€œThis is to ensure the process remains transparent and auditable. No conferring takes place around the decisions made at the time of an incident.
â€œWe vehemently disagree with the position taken by the IPCC over the need to remove this valued and well recognised practice.â€
From Police Oracle
To view the draft guidance and comment upon it see here