Key changes to use of force recording
Friday, 24 February 2017
Simon Kempton, lead on operational policing, outlines the important changes to use of force recording and why this new process will help protect officers.
Changing rules around how police forces, and individual officers, record their use of force will be advantageous to all involved.
From the 1 April 2017, the Home Office have stipulated that all use of force must be recorded by officers in the same way, regardless of where they work.
Historically, there hasn’t been one uniform way of recording use of force. Different forces use different methods with some not keeping central records of how often force has been used at all.
The Home Office identified this as a problem, particularly now that the Police Federation is campaigning to make sure assaults against officers are properly recorded. Their reasoning is: “Why should there be different rules when force is used against an officer, as opposed to when it is used by an officer?”
Fair enough. The government saw this as an opportunity to address an issue that goes to the heart of public trust in the police service.
Our focus during the consultation process has been on making sure the burden on members is as minimal as possible, and to influence the make-up of the resulting form to ensure members who have done their job to the best of their ability are not placed in a difficult position.
Here are a few examples of some of the changes we were able to make to the new use of force form:
- “Were you injured during the incident?” changed to “Do you believe that you were injured during the incident?” This protects officers if they subsequently learn that they are injured, but it wasn’t apparent at the time, and they have a potential claim that could be undermined.
- “Was the subject suffering from a mental illness at the time of the incident?” Police officers are not psychiatrists and aren’t qualified to make that assessment. Because of this, we insisted the question be changed to: “Do you think the subject may have been suffering from some form of mental illness?”
We also wanted to make sure that once all this data is collected, it will be used as constructively as possible for officers across the country. For the first time we will have robust data from all forces demonstrating which techniques and equipment really work and which do not.
We will make sure that this information is used to change things like Officer Safety Training to reflect what we – the members – need to do our job properly. At the same time, if certain equipment isn’t up to the standard we need, we will now have an evidence base to show this.
For example, the new use of force form specifically asks whether the officer is authorised to carry Taser, whether it was being carried at the time and whether the officer was single crewed. Again, this will provide us with invaluable evidence when we argue on your behalf that single crewing and a lack of Taser is dangerous for both the officer and the public, and can actually lead to force being used.
On a practical level, the Federation has worked closely with the implementation team at workshops around the country to try and ensure that this new process is as efficient as possible. We wanted systems that automatically input subject information, such as name and date of birth. Personally, I work in a force that uses the Niche system and recording a simple ‘use of force’ takes me just a few minutes because the system make it easy and efficient.
This new form isn’t meant to replace the notes we make in pocket books or statements. We still need those to justify our actions, making reference to impact factors and the National Decision Model, which will have influenced our decisions. However, the form has now been presented in such a way that it can be used as an aide memoire for when we come to write our notes, making sure we present the best possible evidence to the courts while demonstrating the threat that was posed that led us to use force.
When refuting accusations levelled at us of using excessive force, we will now be able to argue, with solid evidence, that in comparison to the huge numbers of incidents we attend, we rarely have to resort to using force. Furthermore, the Federation will be able to use this data to demonstrate that if we are placed in a position when we must use force that we always try to use the lowest level of force available to us.
For many of us, this will be something new and yet another form on top of all the others. But, as forces will be measured by HMIC on whether they are being completed, it's important that we understand why they're being introduced and we're ready for the April 1 start date. These new forms will help protect us and show how professional we are.