A comprehensive system to record incidents when police in England and Wales have used force is urgently needed in order to identify concerns and improve public confidence, the Independent Police Complaints Commission said (Tuesday 8 March).
The IPCC’s Police Use of Force study brings together evidence from complaints and investigations as well as examining public perceptions. The research looked at the use of firearms, Taser and restraint techniques, among other types of force.
The report found the public believe police now use force more readily than a decade ago, and also believe that police use firearms much more often than they actually do.
The average figure for people who trust the police to use reasonable force was 83%. However, the levels of trust in police use of force were lower among younger people (71%) and in black and minority ethnic communities (76%).
IPCC chair Dame Anne Owers said:
“People understand and expect that our police officers should have the power to use force when it is necessary to protect the public. However, officers must be accountable for their use of force, particularly when it leads to death or serious injury.
“Partly, this is done through investigations of serious incidents but a significant part of accountability is ensuring that the police consistently collect, analyse and publish data about how and when force is used. This allows areas of concern to be identified. It can also improve public confidence, by providing factual information to communities.”
The report examined complaints recorded by the police. It found forces are less likely to uphold complaints about the use of force than other types of complaint. Yet when those complainants appeal to the IPCC, their appeal is more likely to succeed than other types of appeal, particularly if the complainant comes from a black or minority ethnic community.
The research also looked at a five-year sample of IPCC investigations, into the most serious incidents of use of force. Findings from these incidents included:
• A high rate of fatalities when restraint equipment was used, or when police used force in a hospital
• The disproportionate number of people with mental health concerns who died or experienced multiple uses of force
• Young people experiencing use of force were disproportionately likely to be of BME background
• There were concerns about half of the incidents that took place in police custody
• Half the incidents investigated took place between 9pm and 3am, when other services are less likely to be available
Dame Anne said:
“The report raises particular concerns about the use of force on those with mental health concerns, who are particularly vulnerable but may also present challenges and risks to themselves and others.
“Not only do police need training in recognising and communicating with people in mental health crisis, but there is an urgent need to invest in appropriate mental health services to prevent such crises or manage people through them.”
The report makes 20 recommendations to police and policing stakeholder groups, including the need to consistently record and publish data for public scrutiny and for forces to seek feedback from people who have had force used against them.
IPCC press office