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The experts have called for better data collection, publication and analysis of deaths following the use of force.

Methods of recording, investigating and learning from deaths following use of force by the police across Europe can be critically lacking, new report warns

Methods of recording, investigating and learning from deaths following use of force by the police across Europe can be “lacking in critical respects”, a new report warns.

Procedures and policies after incidents are “wanting”, experts found, and this makes it harder to judge the policing involved, including whether some communities are disproportionality subjected to the lethal use of force.

Researchers examined deaths associated with the application of force by law enforcement agencies in Belgium, England and Wales, France and the Netherlands, and the availability and reliability of information about them.  These countries were chosen as initial, pilot case studies, and the research team assessed policies and practices, and the publicly accessible information for each individual death following the use of force.  Further country case studies are planned in future.

The experts found all law enforcement agencies in these jurisdictions had some data recording and accountability processes in place, and there was good practice, but some processes are incomplete and imprecise.

The experts have called for better data collection, publication and analysis of deaths following the use of force.

The report, Police Lethal Force and Accountability, says Belgium, England and Wales and the Netherlands have developed “fairly detailed reporting and data recording processes” for deaths relating to police uses of force, but these could easily and simply be enhanced.

Researchers have said officials in Belgium should introduce better information sharing and coordination among agencies. In England and Wales there is a need to enhance the accessibility and navigability of data. In the Netherlands more data should be collected, and it should be more freely available to the public.

The report says the most “serious need for improvements” is in France, where there is a “systematic lack of a rigorous approach to data collection and publication” across both of its two main national law enforcement agencies, the National Police and National Gendarmerie.

The research team were Professor Otto Adang from the University of Groningen; independent researcher Aline Daillère; Jasper De Paepe, a PhD fellow and researcher at Ghent University; Professor Marleen Easton from Ghent University, Dr Abi Dymond, Professor Brian Rappert and Professor Stephen Skinner from the University of Exeter.

Professor Rappert said: “We want to provide those in policing agencies, campaigning groups, government ministries and others, with sound information with which they can identify priorities to ensure uses of force are being accurately recorded and investigated.

“By enabling those concerned to understand how uses of force are recorded and addressed in comparison with other jurisdictions, we hope this report will help them to build a stronger case when holding public institutions accountable and identifying points for improvement.”

The report notes “relatively good practice” in England and Wales, but says there is a need for further improvements. It recommends the need to implement the recommendations of the Report of the Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody (also known as the Angiolini Review) and the recommendations of the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody. The report also highlights the need to enhance data collection and publication, as sources of information can be disparate, difficult to find and difficult to collate.  The experts recommend the IOPC should more clearly disaggregate deaths following police use of force in its “Deaths During or Following Police Contact” report, and one central hub should be created to compile relevant documentation, including any prosecutions, outcomes and implementation measures, where deaths have occurred.

Dr Dymond said: “When looked at from an international perspective, the system in England and Wales appears to constitute relatively good practice but there is no room for complacency.  Our key recommendation is for the Westminster Government, police and other agencies to implement recommendations from previous reviews, specifically the Angiolini Review, to make sure that lessons are being learnt from such tragic incidents.”

Professor Skinner said: “Ultimately the report underlines the importance of accountability and transparency in policing in the democratic context, especially where life is lost. Given the international focus on these issues in recent months, police agencies need to ensure that deaths are recorded and mechanisms for learning lessons from them put in place.”

Date: 11 February 2021

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