Police Use of Force

The Independent Police Complaints Commission has today published its report on the Police Use of Force. As always with any discussion about the most sensitive and complicated areas of policing, mental health features heavily within in it and there are some quite revealing findings. This is just a short post to cover it, you can read the full report and its own executive summary on the IPCC website. If you want the whilstle-stop tour of that document, read the summary near the start and then leap to page 55 for the section on mental health.

My first concern with all of this is the same concern I have about other approaches: talking about mental illness or mental disorder immediate invites us to believe in a clear division between those concepts and mental wellbeing and mental order,

But the headlines are –

  • 20% of all use of force incidents involve someone known or suspected to have a mental disorder.
  • Those of us with mental disorders are four times more likely to die after a police use of force compared to those not known to have a mental disorder.
  • In fifty percent of incidents where the police use force in connection with someone who is mentally unwell, that individual was in possession of a weapon.
  • Those with mental health problems were more likely to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol and to represent a risk to themselves or others.
  • And nice to see a call from the IPCC for far greater investment in mental health services to reduce police contacts with mentally vulnerable people.
  • Finally, and all credit to @NathanConstable on Twitter for spotting this one –
  • The IPCC were far less likely to have concerns about the appropriateness of the force used when it was used in mental health related situations, because of the above factors.

EARLY THOUGHTS

These are quite small samples, so standard caution to small samples applies. In almost three quarters of the incdients which led to complaints or investigations, the police had been called to encounter the vulnerable person by a third-party because of a concern for welfare. This for me, links back to the broader point about the extent to which we have come to rely upon and see the police as a de facto psychiatric emergency service. Indeed, the IPCC calls for greater investment in mental health services precisely because of this point.

Final point, the definition used by the IPCC for ‘mental health’ or ‘mental illness’ is limited and narrow and relates “to someone detained under the Mental Health Act or if they were a patient at a psychiatric hospital. It was also relevant if the person had previously attempted suicide, was suffering from depression, or had current or historical mental health concerns.” … in other words, it relies upon the current systems in policing to identify people, only some of which are supported by NHS or other screening approaches.  So this report will have under-identified people who featured in complaints who match these definitions, made a choice not disclose and were not flagged by the police to third parties.

MENTAL HEALTH RECOMMENDATIONS

  • R3 – Risk assessment processes should prompt special considerations around vulnerability where mental health is known to be involved.
  • R4 – Training in communication and de-escalation to resolve incidents without using force.
  • R15 – Forces should review their policies for attendances at hospitals, mental health units and other medical settings to minimise police involvement.
  • R19 – College of Policing to devise a plan to address the recommendations from their perspective.
  • R20 – HMIC to ensure that forces responses to this report feature in PEEL inspections.

Oh, and as a postscript: regarding the explanation of the legal basis for the use of force on page 1 – there are many more legal justifications and defences to the use of force than s3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 and they are especially relevant to mental health and vulnerability. They include s117 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the Mental Health 1983, the Mental Capacity Act 2005 as well as some others.  And the Human Rights Act did not receive Royal Assent in 2000. I’ll just leave those thoughts there – you’re welcome.


IMG_0053IMG_0052Winner of the President’s Medal from
the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award.


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4 thoughts on “Police Use of Force

  1. Interesting read, thank you. nice to see IPCC recommend training for police officers in this area, really not fair to expect them to handle such volatile situations without specific training in this area

  2. “the definition used by the IPCC for ‘mental health’ or ‘mental illness’ is limited and narrow and relates “to someone detained under the Mental Health Act or if they were a patient at a psychiatric hospital. It was also relevant if the person had previously attempted suicide, was suffering from depression, or had current or historical mental health concerns.” … in other words, it relies upon the current systems in policing to identify people, only some of which are supported by NHS or other screening approaches. So this report will have under-identified people who featured in complaints who match these definitions, made a choice not disclose and were not flagged by the police to third parties.”

    I question this point.
    I have quite often assessed someone under s136 of the MHA who the police identify as having mental health markers on a PNC check. who turn out to have no evidence of previous or current psychiatric involvement or a need for it. At the same time the phrase ‘historical mental health concerns’ is about as broad and inclusive as you can get – I doubt there are many people who are reading this who haven’t had some concern about their own mental wellbeing.

    1. My point is, that the police miss people in custody who do, in fact, have proper mental health problems. And you’re questioning that, so presumably you think the police spot everyone that needs spotting? (It’s a separate, although obviously related point, about whether the police also over-identify people, through the mechanisms you rightly mention.)

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