University of Exeter academic honoured for research shaping new national data on police use of force

University of Exeter academic honoured for research shaping new national data on police use of force

A University of Exeter expert’s work on a new national reporting system on the use of force for all 43 police forces in England and Wales has earned her a major award.

Dr Abigail Dymond’s research will lead to more transparent and safer policing. Her contribution to the new national police use of force reporting system - introduced in April 2017 - has awarded her £10,000 for Outstanding Early Career Impact in the 2018 Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Celebrating Impact Prize in partnership with SAGE Publishing.

Prior to the new reporting system, no standard national statistics existed on when, why and how less-lethal methods of force such as batons, irritant sprays, taser, or simple restraint were employed and any resultant injuries to police officers or the public.

Based on her PhD research into Taser use in England and Wales, Dr Dymond was invited to join a police-led strategic review into the reporting of all types of force used in policing. Nine of Dr Dymond’s ten recommendations were accepted in part or in full.

All 43 police forces in England and Wales now have a single, standardised form for their officers to report individually every use of less-lethal force including crucial details such as whether weapons were drawn but not used, injuries to the officer or member of the public, and the gender, ethnicity and age of the individual as well as the times and locations of incidents.

Anonymised date is now made publicly available by police forces every quarter and will be published nationally as annual statistics by the Home Office for the first time in September 2018.

“Abi Dymond’s research into the current status of police use of force recording provided a vital evidence base for the review, and an essential platform on which meaningful recommendations could be made on recording of data in the future,” says Neil Pattinson, Deputy Head of Police Powers Unit, Home Office. “The Use of Force Data Review will make a real difference in increasing transparency on how the police use force in the future, and Abi has made a significant contribution in its successful delivery.”

Ahead of the publication of national annual statistics, the Metropolitan Police Service published its first data on 1 August 2017. And Metropolitan Police Commander (Taskforce & Armed Policing) Matt Twist views the use of force data as a great step forward for transparency. “Officers are trained to use force proportionately, lawfully and only when absolutely necessary,” Met Commander Twist explained. “This data will help us ensure that this is the case, and that our training, tactics and equipment are fit for purpose.” Together with body-worn video, the data will also show the thousands of cases where a use of force de-escalates a situation and protects the public.

The new Met data shows, for example, that between April and June 2017 taser was fired in only 10.5 per cent of cases in which it was deployed. So in 89.5 per cent of cases it was used but not fired, demonstrating its effectiveness as a tactic in defusing potentially volatile situations and reducing the need for further use of force techniques.

“The collation of data in this way is a positive step for the Met,” says Commander Twist. “It gives senior officers an enhanced ability to scrutinise the decisions officers take daily, and help influence the way we train officers in use of force tactics, and to ensure we are giving them the right equipment.”

Based on the new national reporting system at least 30 of police forces in England and Wales have now reviewed use of force policies or practices, including officer safety training, issuing body armour and internal monitoring procedures.

“We now have detailed and standardised data that can be scrutinised by journalists, civil society organisations, the Independent Office for Police Conduct and the police themselves,” Dr Dymond explains. “This will lead not only to greater transparency and accountability but to use of force in ways that are safer both for the public and police officers nationally and, in time, possibly internationally too.”

Rachel Tuffin, Director at the What Works Centre for Crime Reduction, College of Policing said: “Abi winning the ESRC early career impact prize is fantastic news and illustrates the great strides being made in evidence-based policing. We will be building on Abi’s research championing use of force recording across the police service, working with her to analyse the national data to identify ways of improving officer and public safety. We were also delighted to have Abi’s contributions as part of the College committee that developed new evidence-based guidelines on officer safety, which will be published over the summer”.

Date: 21 June 2018

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