Police use of force needs recording better, IPCC says

A better system for recording the use of force by police in England and Wales is needed to improve public perception, the police watchdog has said.



The Independent Police Complaints Commission says people think force is used more readily than a decade ago.

Its report also found people with mental health problems are more likely to die than others after force is used.

Police officers poised ready to make arrests

Officers must consider whether the use of “reasonable force” has a lawful objective and basis.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said the findings would contribute to a review it is carrying out.

‘Head-butting a child’

The IPCC’s Police Use of Force study brings together evidence from complaints and investigations over a five-year period from 2009 to 2014, as well as examining public perception.

Researchers looked at 200 IPCC investigations into the most serious incidents of use of force and concerns were raised in a third of cases.

Findings included:

  • A high death rate when restraint equipment, such as leg straps and belts, was used, or when police used force in a hospital
  • People with mental health concerns were four times more likely to die than other people
  • Young people experiencing use of force were disproportionately likely to be of black and ethnic minority (BME) background
  • Half the incidents investigated took place between 21:00 and 03:00, when other services are less likely to be available

In one case, an officer received a final written warning for head-butting a child.

The report included a survey of 1,302 people and 83% of those polled said they trusted the police to use reasonable force.

However, polling scores among some groups were lower, with 71% of young people and 76% of BME individuals expressing trust in the police.

When can the police use force?

Officers must consider whether the use of “reasonable force” has a lawful objective and basis. Their options include:

  • self-defence – common law (legal precedents set by courts and judges)
  • defence of another person – common law
  • preventing damage to property – Criminal Damage Act 1971
  • preventing a crime, by making an arrest or apprehension – Criminal Law Act 1967

An officer must also determine how immediate and grave a threat is, and whether any action short of using force could be deployed instead.

The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 says that what amounts to reasonable force should be considered in light of the circumstances a police officer is faced with – and what they honestly and instinctively believed they were faced with – at the time.

The report also found the public believe that police use firearms much more often than they actually do.

It said there was currently no “standardised national practice for police forces to record all types of force used”.

‘Not typical’

The IPCC is calling for the creation of a national database to record the use of firearms, Tasers and other restraint techniques to identify concerns and improve public confidence.

Chairman Dame Anne Owers said officers must be accountable for their use of force, particularly when it leads to death or serious injury.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that police should record when, where and why force was used to provide a “clear picture”.

There was a suggestion, she said, that police were not always “alert to when there ought to be concerns about the way force is being used”.

But she added: “Our own investigations, remember, are into the most serious incidents, the ones that come to us, so they are not typical of the way force is used across the country.”

The report made 20 recommendations in total, including the need for forces to seek feedback from people who have had force used against them.

Meanwhile, it has been announced that IPCC is to be overhauled and renamed.

Home Secretary Theresa May has said the watchdog will become the Office for Police Conduct.

The reformed organisation will be headed by a director general instead of a number of commissioners.

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