Rarely a week goes by when there is not some kind of story in the Press highlighting an area in which police officers are said to be failing, not doing their job properly or letting down the public they serve.

So, the publication on 8 March of an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) report into police use of force, could quite easily have passed me by – had it not prompted more questions than it provided answers.

To summarise, the report, on the back of an IPCC study (I will come back to this later) came up with one key recommendation – a need to record, analyse and publish information on all uses of force by the police. I do not disagree on that point.

Other recommendations included – communications and de-escalation; special considerations when dealing with vulnerable groups, training to ensure consistency with national guidance and specific training in dealing with unconscious bias; dealing with incidents in medical settings; the use of body worn video and understanding community impact.

Again, I would not disagree that these are areas we should be considering.

The over-riding message for me though was that the IPCC says people think force is used more readily than it was 10 years ago.

But what I did not see in the report was the IPCC saying that police officers themselves are also seeing more attacks on them by members of the public.

Every day 86 police officers are being assaulted as they go about their duties fighting and preventing crime, keeping the peace and protecting the vulnerable. That amounts to just under 31,400 assaults a year and we are aware that assaults on officers are not recorded consistently around the country so the real total is likely to be far higher than that. Do all officers report when they are pushed, jostled or spat at? I doubt it. All too often, it is now seen as part of the job; a job that already involves running towards danger when others run away, putting your life on the line to protect the public and, all too regularly, paying the ultimate price in doing so.

But this barely seems to warrant a mention in the IPCC report.

Neither does there seem to be any kind of reference to the effect of single-crewing. Is single-crewing leading to more officer assaults?

What about the Government cuts? We have lost 18,000 police officers in the last five years. With fewer resources, are we more likely to be assaulted as we are stretched to the limit? Are stressed officers, trying to maintain a quality public service with diminished resources, more likely to use force when trying to handle an unruly member of the public.

What about the demands placed upon the modern police service? We are currently facing an unprecedented threat of a terrorist attack in the UK.

And what about the nature of the crimes we are facing? More and more criminals seem to be armed with knives and firearms and more and more officers seem to have been injured after being deliberately struck by vehicles.

As I said at the outset, for me, this report raises more questions than answers.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying for one minute that police officers should be excused for using excessive force if that is found to be the case. But what I am saying is that any study claiming to get a ‘complete picture of how police in England and Wales’ use force, should also involve analysis of the factors above – assaults on police officers, cuts to police numbers, management of police resources, the changing nature of crime, the increased use of weapons.

To do otherwise, and not consider all relevant factors in this type of study, could seriously undermine the public’s perception of the way in which we police in this country.

We police by consent and we should ensure it remains that way.

Interestingly, the public still hold a great deal of faith in the police service and, while the figure may not have been flagged up by the media, the IPCC report revealed that 83 per cent of the public trust  the police a lot or a fair amount to use reasonable force. 

Police concern about how frequently police use force was also relatively low –just 25 per cent.

Members of the public and the police officers spoken to as part of the study, also considered that excessive use of force by the police was rare.

So, let’s go back to the report. It seems the IPCC used a sample group of just 1,300 people. Is it just me or is that a very small number?

For the purpose of the study, the term ‘use of force’ included physical restraint, such as arm locks and pressure compliance - the use of batons and incapacitant sprays (CS spray/PAVA) - the use of Tasers, firearms and restraint equipment The use of handcuffs was considered in cases where use resulted in either a complaint or a serious injury.

But, I can’t find anywhere in the IPCC’s 105-page report, where the use of force by police officers is measured against what the officers themselves were experiencing.

Though I did find this excerpt quite interesting:

Forty people experienced a baton strike. This was significantly less likely to be used against someone with mental health concerns or someone under the influence of alcohol and/ or drugs. When the situation involved a crime in progress, this increased the likelihood of a baton being used.

Surely, this is a good example of how police officers are getting it right? Wouldn’t most right-thinking members of society be quite comfortable with there being an increased likelihood of a baton being used if a crime was in progress and an officer felt it would prevent that crime or help capture the criminal?

So, to sum up, this report seems to smack of being another ‘stick’ to beat the police with. But perhaps instead it should be seen as another example of why the police service and police officers have lost confidence in the IPCC itself.

While the report made 20 recommendations, there is perhaps one that demonstrates this point quite well. The IPCC believes forces should seek feedback from people who have had force used against them. Really? Does the IPCC think these people are going to say: “Thank you very much, I deserved that.”

But, I don’t think we should worry too much. The IPCC is getting a new name. It is to become the Office for Police Conduct. That will make it all better. It is, according to the Home Secretary, going to be overhauled and will be headed by a director general – let’s hope it’s someone with a real understanding of the pressures of modern day policing – instead of a number of commissioners.

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