Use of force doesn’t look nice. It’s the actions of one or some human being(s) to physically restrain another to a point of compliance. It can look like a fight. It can sound like a fight. It’s often noisy and is moving at a fast pace. Some of the people in the situation that can look and sound like a fight are wearing uniforms.
There is no escaping that it the public will have an opinion on use of force and in the days where policing is often videoed by passers-by, footage of use of force is ever more available in the public domain. We have seen some cases of this recently with well-publicised footage online and in the mainstream media.
I will take care not to comment on any individual use of force as reported in the media as I am not an expert in it. I have not been trained in use of force. I have never had to use force, nor had it used against me, although have seen force used many times in past roles. Therefore, I will only comment as someone in the field of monitoring policing and with an interest in how to train Independent Custody Visitors in use of force.
Independent Custody Visitors, (ICVs), are members of the public who make unannounced visits to police custody to check on the rights, entitlements and wellbeing of those held in police custody. It may be that on these visits they see force being used in custody, (although anecdotally this seems the exception rather than the rule). This can involve placing detainees in hand cuffs, leg restraints, the application of spitguards and force can be used to place detainees in anti-rip clothing.
So, what then do we tell our ICVs on force? We give them an overview of the types of equipment that can be used in custody and present a picture of what it is and indicate that it can be used. Some forces have staff to demonstrate use of force to ICVs as part of their training, but this is not consistent across the UK.
We tell our ICVs that use of force can be necessary to stop someone from harming those around them. It can also be used to stop someone harming themselves and finally is also is allowed if there is a fear of escape. We also tell our ICVs that use of force does not look nice.
Why don’t we insist that all ICVs view or have use of force training? Well, ICVs are there to provide public reassurance, it was the main thrust of why Custody Visiting was put into place and we want our ICVs to view the custody environ exactly as someone who had never been in custody would. We don’t want them to be experts, that’s not their purpose. We do want them to comment on things that look and feel wrong as a member of the public might.
ICVA’s training talks ICVs through what PACE CODE C, the APP from the College of Policing and the Human Rights Act say on use of force. We press home the message that use of force should always be the last recourse, should be deemed as absolutely necessary and that the force used should be reasonable and proportionate.
Something I am very keen on is giving the ICVs questions to consider when they view something in a custody suite, for example, with use of force I would want them to consider if the use of force looked controlled – did the actions seem as though there was the right amount of staff involved and that they knew the processes for what they were doing. Did the staff make efforts to de-escalate prior to using force – we get some good reports back from ICVs on the use of de-escalation in custody and ICVs are not just there to be critical, they feedback praise too! Did the restraints placed on the detainee get removed expediently once compliance had been achieved? We see records of restraints being left in place for extended periods in Inspectorate reports fairly frequently.
ICVs report back to the Custody Sergeant at the end of the visit, and also to the scheme manager who will bring any issues, good or of concern to the attention of the PCC so that the issue may be rectified locally. Schemes then report also to ICVA in terms of quarterly reports and if there is something of concern are able to email us directly.
The message across most of our training for ICVs is that if something feels wrong, report it. If something doesn’t look right, report it. If you see good practice, report that too!