The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) today published its annual ‘Deaths during or following police contact’ report for 2020/21.
Published for the 17th year, the statistics provide an official record setting out the number of such deaths, the circumstances in which they happen, and any underlying factors. Figures across the different categories can fluctuate each year, and any conclusions about trends need to be treated with caution.
Commenting on this year’s figures, IOPC Director General Michael Lockwood said:
“Substance abuse, intoxication, and mental health vulnerabilities are key issues this year. Yet again we are seeing a sadly familiar picture of people with clear vulnerabilities coming into contact with the police because their needs aren’t adequately met by other services.
“All but five of the 19 people who died in or following police custody in 2020/21 were known to have links to alcohol and/or drugs, and 12 had mental health concerns. The majority of the 92 other deaths we investigated were people who came into contact with the police because of concerns for their welfare and more than half were reported to be intoxicated or affected by substance abuse. Over two-thirds of those who died were reported to have mental health concerns.
“Each of these deaths is a tragedy and, while not all will have been avoidable, an over-reliance on the police service to step in to critical situations involving medical emergencies or mental health crises is unfair to those who have died, their families, and the often ill-equipped officers involved. These issues cannot be solved by the police service alone and need a concerted, system-wide response to help prevent future deaths from occurring.
“It is notable that restraint by police was a feature in 18 of these deaths. While the use of restraint did not necessarily contribute to the deaths, it underlines the importance of police officers using de-escalation and communication techniques when they encounter vulnerabilities such as mental health and substance abuse.
“We therefore welcome the new guidelines on conflict management from the College of Policing, along with enhanced training for officers in avoiding the use of force wherever possible.
“We continue to share learning from our work with the Ministerial Board on Deaths in Custody and welcome its renewed focus on cross-Government and multi-agency work on substance misuse and mental health. The Government’s update on the Angiolini review, published last week, also reflected further work to ensure people in mental health crisis receive the right support.
“Police have hundreds of thousands of interactions with the public each year. Where deaths do occur following contact with police, it is important we have in place robust systems of investigation and accountability, identifying where changes can be made to reduce future risks.
“I hope this report along with the findings and recommendations from our independent investigations, and the experiences of bereaved families, will now be used to make improvements which prevent future deaths.
“With our increased focus on prevention, we have issued 63 learning recommendations from independent investigations following deaths in the past two years. These extend across a range of areas including police custody and the welfare of detainees, use of body-worn video, and roads policing.”
A statistical news release is available on the IOPC website along with the report https://www.policeconduct.gov.uk/news/iopc-publishes-figures-deaths-during-or-following-police-contact-202021
Written By: Mark Pearson