December 2022: The force is wrong with this one
The latest stats on police use of force paint a disturbing yet familiar picture: one of young Black men being disproportionately targeted by police
Welcome to the final newsletter of 2022! Hasn’t this year flown by? It’s been just 315 days since former head of the Metropolitan Police Service Dame Cressida Dick announced her resignation (BBC News, 11 Feb) – and just 316 since she assured BBC Radio London listeners that she had ‘absolutely no intention’ of doing so (BBC News, 10 Feb). And it’s been exactly 102 days since the force’s new commissioner Sir Mark Rowley embarked on his mission to turn things around in – uhhh – 100 days.
But by now we’re used to shameless lies, u-turns, hypocrisy, and empty promises from the authorities when it comes to policing in the UK. Speaking of which: just days after we published our previous newsletter (‘November 2022: Shadowy oversight’) focusing on the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), director general Michael Lockwood was forced to resign (The Guardian, 3 Dec) over a historical criminal allegation relating to a sexual relationship he allegedly had with a 14- or 15-year-old victim when he was in his twenties. It later emerged that the Home Office ‘knew for a month that [Lockwood] was under criminal investigation for a sexual offence but he was told to keep working “as normal”’, despite home secretary Suella Braverman claiming that she had taken ‘immediate action’ on becoming aware of the criminal inquiry (The Times, 10 Dec).
In a letter to Braverman, her Labour rival Yvette Cooper wrote that the issue ‘raises direct and serious questions about your failure as home secretary to ensure that the Home Office and the IOPC are taking standards seriously enough’. The IOPC is now conducting a review to ‘determine whether appropriate steps were taken’ before Lockwood’s resignation (The Independent, 11 Dec). Ah, the internal review: every police institution’s tool of choice for evading genuine responsibility and accountability!
This month, we at StopWatch have been reflecting on another busy year and setting out our plans for 2023 with many exciting things to come, like the upcoming girls and women’s project networking evening in Manchester on 24 January (see the poster below and follow the Eventbrite link for more details and to sign up to attend).
Topics in this month’s newsletter include:
The latest stats on police use of force
The Met are forced to pay compensation to not one but two pairs of Black brothers wrongly stopped and searched by police officers
Please enjoy our roundup of stories below.
Don’t underestimate the force: young Black men still vastly overrepresented in latest police ‘use of force’ stats
Last week, the Home Office released the latest statistics on police use of force (UOF) covering the year from April 2021 to March 2022. UOF – and its misuse and overuse – has also been a strikingly common feature in policing news this month (as seen in the ‘other news’ section of this newsletter). The unsurprising TL; DR of the dataset is: police in England and Wales are (still) disproportionately using force against Black people – especially young Black men.
A brief note on the stats (and their quality)
‘Use of force’ encompasses a wide variety of police actions: including restraint equipment (handcuffs, limb restraints, spit hoods), Tasers, batons, incapacitant sprays, firearms, police dogs, and more (see our use of force factsheet for the legal and historical background of police UOF).
But before we break down the numbers, it’s important to note that that these data are far from perfect for a number of reasons (as per the Home Office’s own admission, 2021, 2022). For example:
UOF information is self-reported by individual police officers after a ‘use of force incident’ (and characteristics such as ethnicity and age are also usually recorded ‘as perceived by the reporting officer’)
The monitoring of UOF wasn’t made mandatory for all police forces in England and Wales until April 2017, and 2021-22 is only the second year that the data have been classed as ‘official’ rather than ‘experimental statistics’ – as a result, comparison beyond 2020-21 is difficult
Currently, there is no universal training or accepted standards for data recording across police forces
Force used in ‘designated public order events’ is not recorded, as the Home Office claims that it is ‘not feasible for officers to provide the same level of detail as for individual use of force incidents’ (Home Office, 2021)
Despite these limitations, it’s still useful to look into these stats to see what insight we might be able to glean in terms of how, where, why, and (perhaps most crucially) against whom police officers are using force.
Digging into the latest data
In 2021-22, police in England and Wales recorded 608,164 ‘use of force incidents’ – up around 8% from the 562,277 incidents recorded in 2020-21. The number of times individual tactics were used rose, too: from 809,450 in 2020-21 to 893,890 in 2021-22 – a 10% increase.
Of the 43 police forces in England and Wales, 35 (81%) reported an increase in UOF incidents compared with the year ending 31 March 2021. Almost a quarter (24%) of UOF incidents were reported by the Metropolitan police.
How was force was used?
Like the previous year, ‘restraint’ was the most frequently used tactic, with ‘handcuffing’ being the primary mode of restraint used (423,800 times in total), followed by ‘ground restraint’ (102,370 times), and finally ‘limb restraint’ (43,150 times). Cases of ‘compliant handcuffing’ rose by 6%, from 248,569 in 2020-21 to 263,602 in 2021-22; ‘non-compliant handcuffing’ rose by 12% from 136,750 to 154,459. In 5,739 cases, police failed to record whether handcuffing was used at all. The figures for the latter are especially worrying given that the College of Policing says ‘it would be unlawful for an officer to handcuff a person during a stop and search simply as a matter of routine’. The term ‘non-compliant’ especially masks many a scenario in which handcuffing may have been deployed as a tactic in an unlawful manner.
The use of CEDs (conducted energy devices – like Tasers) and AEPs (attenuating energy projectiles), both classed as ‘less lethal weapons’, remained almost the same compared to the previous year (35,367 uses in 2020-21 and 35,389 uses in 2021-22). The use of conventional firearms also remained relatively stable (5,351 in 2020-21 and 5,435 in 2021-22 – these figures include firearms being drawn, aimed, or fired), while the use of irritant sprays increased by a worrying 15% from to 18,526 to 21,516.
Where and why was force used?
The most commonly recorded setting for police UOF in 2021-22 was public spaces (58% of UOF incidents and 59% of individual UOF tactics used), followed by private dwellings (24% / 24%), police settings such as police vehicles and stations (16% / 18%), medical settings (6% / 7%), and finally ‘other’ (3% / 3%).
Incidents that took place in the ‘dwelling’ and ‘other’ categories remained fairly stable when compared to 2020-21. However, there was a 19% rise incidents of police using force in medical settings, a 10% rise in incidents in police settings, and a 13% rise in incidents in public spaces.
The most common reason officers gave for using force was ‘protect self’: this reason was recorded in 425,721 (70%) of all incidents in which force was used. ‘Protect other officers’ was the second most frequently recorded reason officers gave for using force (368,722 incidents), followed by ‘effect arrest’ (323,256), ‘prevent escape’ (279,919), ‘protect individual’ (272,463), ‘prevent harm’ (241,527), ‘prevent offence’ (214,408), ‘protect public’ (196,996), ‘secure evidence’ (101,613), ‘effect other search’ (85,216), ‘effect stop and search’ (55,904), ‘other’ (39,204), remove handcuffs (26,294), and ‘effect search in custody’ (16,999).
Compared with the previous year, there was a 222% increase in police officers using force for the purposes of carrying out a stop and search, from 17,361 incidents to 55,904. Searches in custody where force was used also rose by 179% (from 6,088 to 16,999). ‘Other’ searches in which UOF was recorded dropped from 133,415 to 85,216, which may partially explain the dramatic increases in the former two categories, as there was only a 1% increase in UOF when the three types of search are grouped together.
Who experienced use of force?
More than half (53%) of recorded UOF incidents involved individuals between 18 and 34 years old; 10% of incidents involved those aged 17 and under. 81% of people involved in use of force incidents were recorded as male. 16% of people who experienced use of force were perceived as having a mental health condition.
Force was used against Black people at a rate 3.0 times higher than white people (this figure rises to 3.4 when focusing on the Metropolitan police force area alone). Black men between the ages of 18 and 34 accounted for 7% of all UOF incidents, despite this demographic making up just 0.5% of the general population.
Black people were also involved in proportionally more incidents involving ‘less lethal weapons’ (Tasers) and firearms. UOF incidents in which a CED was used involved individuals from a Black ethnic group at a rate 4.1 times higher than individuals from a white ethnic group. While the national rate remained stable compared to the previous year at 4.1, the Metropolitan police force area rate grew from 4.5 in 2020-21 to 4.7 in 2021-22.
Deaths from police contact, cases old and new
The IOPC investigation into the death of Jon Green, who died in police custody in June 2021, found no evidence that Thames Valley Police caused or contributed to Jon’s death. However, the IOPC did ‘identify potential performance issues regarding the conduct of two detention officers’. (IOPC, 8 Dec)
The inquest into the death of Neal Saunders, who died following prolonged restraint by Thames Valley officers, ‘found that Neal being transported in a prone position and the lack of monitoring whilst in the ambulance may have more than minimally contributed to his death’. Neal’s father said that he ‘has to live with the guilt of knowing that his son might still be alive had he not called [the police] for help’.(INQUEST, 2 Dec; The Guardian, 2 Dec)
Police Scotland officers ‘should not have lain across the torso of Sheku Bayoh as he lay restrained on the ground and they missed opportunities to call an ambulance despite him presenting “multiple risk factors”, an expert has told the inquiry into his death in custody’. Lawyers at the inquiry were ‘upbraided for watching football’ during proceedings. (The Guardian, 30 Nov, 2 Dec)
Man in his 40s, identity unconfirmed
A man has died after being shot by armed police in Cumbria on Monday 19th December. The police watchdog said: ‘[our] investigation is at a very early stage and no further information can be provided at this time. Our thoughts are with all those affected by this tragic incident’. (The Guardian, 19 Dec)
The 29-year-old father-of-three died last month after being Tasered by Essex Police officers in November. His family said: ‘It’s almost impossible to find the words to describe the hurt and pain we feel’. An IOPC investigation has now been launched. (The Independent, 16 Dec)
Met pays out to Black brothers searched and handcuffed outside home: The UK’s largest force has settled a complaint made by two brothers, Nicholas and Leon Peart, who were stopped, searched, and handcuffed outside their family home. Leon said his handcuffing and treatment left him in tears: ‘They twisted them and the metal digs into your hands. I think it was racist and because of my skin colour. There’s no change in the Met. Words are cheap, once we see actions we can start to believe their stories’. (The Guardian, 1 Dec)
Nearly two thirds of Black children and teenagers do not trust police, figures show: The report found that whilst most young people had trust in the police (73%) only 36% of Black children and teenagers felt the same. (Sky News, 2 Dec)
Police in schools to be checked for racist treatment of schoolkids: Met officers stationed in schools are to be monitored to see if they are disproportionately targeting Black children as part of new measures agreed in negotiations between the Met and London mayor, Sadiq Khan. (The Guardian, 4 Dec)
Woman accuses police of excessive force against her Black sons at London station: The two brothers, aged 13 and 15, were making their way to school on Monday when they were stopped by rail staff because the 13-year-old had forgotten his Oyster card. Footage of the incident, which circulated across social media, showed the 15-year-old boy being held against the wall by several rail staff, while according to other reports an officer had held him by the neck. (The Guardian, 8 Dec)
Met apologises to Black brothers stopped and searched after fist bump: The force has apologised and paid tens of thousands of pounds in damages and costs to two young Black men, Dijon and Liam Joseph, who were stopped and searched after officers saw them bump fists in the street and wrongly suspected them of dealing drugs. (The Guardian, 9 Dec)
Sex workers in London ‘frightened police will abuse increased powers’ against them: The English Collective of prostitutes has dubbed Newham Council’s proposal for a Public Space Protection Order for Romford Road as a ‘crackdown’ on sex workers that would ‘undermine’ their safety. (Metro News, 11 Dec)
Police Scotland accused of profiling by ethnicity: Scotland’s police force has been accused of racial profiling after it emerged that people from minority ethnic backgrounds were up to 20 times more likely to be stopped under counterterrorism powers, a joint investigation by The Times Scotland and Liberty Investigates has found. (The Times, 12 Dec)
Half of Black British police suffer racial incidents from colleagues, survey finds: Those affected were much more likely to feel like outsiders and to want to leave, and many believed their bosses failed to punish wrongdoers, in effect creating a culture of impunity. (The Guardian, 15 Dec)
Policing to receive ‘up to £287 million funding boost next year’: The government is giving police and crime commissioners in England the ability to raise up to £349 million through a council tax precept limit of £15. The rise will take total funding for policing up to £17.2 billion. (Home Office, 15 Dec)
New research shows significant proportion of officers still using ‘smell of cannabis’ as a reason to carry out a search, contrary to official guidelines: Academics at the University of York, who conducted the study, also demonstrated that ‘suspects with previous drug convictions or more simply just known to the police – ‘police property’ – were more likely to be approached and searched and more quickly escalated to arrest and prosecution’. (Criminology & Criminal Justice, 15 Dec)
Former chief constable facing gross misconduct probe appointed chief executive officer for a police and crime commissioner's (PCC) office: Ex-Cleveland Police boss Mike Veale has been given the interim job with the PCC for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Rupert Matthews. (BBC News, 16 Dec)
The Met pay damages to man two years after stop and search: The Met have apologised more than two years after a Black man in his 20s sitting in his car outside his home was handcuffed, injured, strip searched and detained in a cell by officers looking for cannabis. The Met paid £22,500 damages and his costs, before the case alleging assault and false imprisonment reached court. (The Guardian, 20 Dec)
Section 60 watch*
Lambeth (21 Dec)
Ipswich (9 Dec)
East Leeds (9 Dec)
Sale (8 Dec)
Central Oxford (3 Dec)
Hailsham (15 Dec)
* This is not a comprehensive list
Terrible tech: surreptitious, sinister, and downright silly
This month in terrible tech, we bring you two stories at opposite ends of the scale from the insidious to the ridiculous. A freedom of information request showed that the Met had illegally filmed children as young as 10 at a climate protest (The Guardian, 5 Dec); meanwhile, the same force are currently ‘exploring’ the use of pseudoscientific lie detector tests as a means of vetting new recruits (The Mirror, 1 Dec).
A freedom of information request made by our friends at Big Brother Watch revealed earlier this month that the Met ‘were rebuked by the information commissioner’s office (ICO) for video surveillance’ at a ‘school strike’ climate protest in London in 2019. The reprimand was issued in 2020, but was not publicised by the ICO at the time – so didn’t come to light until Big Brother Watch made a formal complaint after witnessing officers at the protest filming young children and teenagers.
Director Silkie Carlo said:
The police’s recording of children as young as 10 years old […] was oppressive, unjustified, unlawful, and a disturbing reflection of how hostile to democratic freedoms the Metropolitan police has become.
We urge Met commissioner Sir Mark Rowley to fulfil his legal duties to protect the public’s right to protest and ensure vital police resources are never again wasted by spying on children with opinions.
In other news, Rowley revealed he was ‘exploring’ the use of lie detector tests to improve the force’s vetting procedures following a devastating HMICFRS (police inspectorate) report into recruitment and vetting standards in UK policing. According to The Mirror, ‘the top cop has shared that his team is researching “the latest lie detector technology” and that he was “up for anything” to find the “right people” for the force’ (1 Dec).
Although the idea of making police officers take lie detector tests is admittedly an entertaining one, we suspect it’ll take more than some performative polygraphing to tackle the issue of rotten cops and institutionalised untruths at the Met.
StopWatch is a volunteer-led organisation that relies on the generosity of trusts and grant funders to operate. We DO NOT accept funding from the government or police as we believe this would compromise our ability to critically challenge.
We’d appreciate any one-off or regular donations to help support our work. You can click on our donate button below to go through to our donation page.
See you in 2023!