NEW APPOINTMENT: Dr Derrick Campbell
VETERAN COMMUNITY activist Dr Derrick Campbell must have asbestos fingers – for he has just picked up a political hot potato by becoming one of the UK’s eight operational commissioners for the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
But the former chief executive of West Midlands-based Race Equality Sandwell is showing no sign of losing his nerve over his appointment made less than two months ago.
“People who have no confidence in the organisation will be very sceptical about me,” he said after undergoing a grilling from members of Birmingham’s People’s National Party (UK) group at their monthly meeting in Handsworth, a few streets away from where he grew up.
“I’m not making any assumptions that people will automatically trust me. I have to recognise that and build on that trust – I have to prove myself and it will be a massive challenge. We all know that the IPCC has had a pretty bad press.”
As one of the few black men out of a dozen strategic leaders who make up the national commission (there are two black female members), the pressure is well and truly on.
“I intend to use my life experiences because I’m no shrinking violet and I’m known for my plain speaking and activism within the community,” he explained
“It’s really important that as commissioners we get ourselves out there. We’re not controlled by the Police, Parliament or the state. No one can tell us what to do,” he added.
But the realm of the job is vast. In total, the IPCC nationally has fewer than 360 staff. As one of eight independent commissioners covering 43 police forces with more than 200,000 officers, Campbell’s ‘patch’ includes Nottingham to Northampton, parts of the Metropolitan Police, West Mercia and Warwickshire.
In 2010 to 2011 alone, there were 55,000 complaints made against 30,000 officers.
“We are not here to investigate every complaint,” Campbell explained. “We are here to make sure each complaint is dealt with properly. We’re also not judge and jury. The IPCC’s job is to put certain cases before the courts, but often, for some reason a jury will not convict them and this is when we get the blame.
“I realise many people see the IPCC as the second home of the police and feel too many former officers have been involved with it to be objective. It has not been as thorough and as rigorous as it should have been.”
But Campbell insists new powers will prevent the commission from being a nodding dog, run and controlled by a London-based centralised system.
He gives an example of stop and search where a young black male has made a complaint to police, which they have a duty to record and investigate.
“Sometimes these complaints are not recorded, so this is when people can come directly to the IPCC, which can then look at it and if it feels there’s a case, then we can call it in. By law the police have to comply with this.”
But during the PNP meeting Campbell was repeatedly asked how he expects the black community to have any confidence in the IPCC given that not one single officer has been prosecuted in relation to deaths in custody since it was set up in 2004, following the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.
“As an organisation we must get better at explaining what we do and how we work,” Campbell answered. “We are not the police and we are not the second home of the police. We are independent by law.”
However, Campbell stressed that “bringing confidence is all about explaining what we do and making sure that we do it in a way that works with people. That’s our challenge and we’re determined to get better at doing this.”