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Norfolk Police Federation

PFEW Conference: Police firearms officers need clear guidance on use of force

10 June 2021

Police firearms officers need clear guidance on use of force, the Police Federation of England and Wales has told the Home Office at its annual conference.

Officers face an unfair situation, the session entitled “Use of force - Objective or Subjective” heard, because they are currently being held to two different standards.

Scott Ingram, Lead Lawyer on Criminal Police Misconduct Slater and Gordon, explained: “We now have two different tests. In criminal law we have one test and in police misconduct we have a different one. In criminal law an officer’s decision to use force will be justified based on their honestly-held belief about the need to use force - that is the subjective test. In misconduct proceedings, because of the court of appeal decision [in October last year], even if an officer has an honestly-held belief, they can still be dismissed if an objective view is upheld that their belief was unreasonable.

“Most police officer decisions to use force are in quick time, in a difficult situation, and in stressful scenarios. So quite how an officer is expected to weigh up the criminal law test and the misconduct test before they decide to use force is a problem. It is far from ideal and needs to be resolved by a decision in the Supreme Court.”

Steve Hartshorn, Firearms and Less Lethal Lead, PFEW told the conference that the situation was unfair and needed amending.

He said: “This affects every strand of policing - from frontline officers responding to 999 calls to senior leaders and chief constables, and if officers are making decisions around what could potentially lead to use of force…it is only right and proper that everyone involved know exactly what standard they are being assessed and held to account by.”

He called for the Home Office and the College of Policing to equip police officers with the information they need to do their jobs.

Steve added: “Any use of force has to be justified, accounted for and used in right circumstances…Officers are going through a very complex process. The last thing they need to be thinking is “if I make this use of force, am I going to be criticised for something I got wrong?

“If they need to think about it for too long, will there be a pause that could cause injury to the officer, injury to a member of the public? Will it mean that subject they are trying to deal with could cause more harm or get away?”