…By for TDPel Media.
Concerning Surge in Deaths in Police Custody Raises Alarm
Commentary: The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has reported a troubling increase in the number of deaths in or following police custody, exceeding the average recorded over the past decade. The figure has risen from 11 in the previous year to 23 in 2022/23, marking the highest count since 2017/18. With a focus on the recent report, it becomes evident that there are various factors contributing to this concerning trend.
Demographic and Mental Health Factors
Commentary: Among the 23 individuals who lost their lives in or following police custody, 22 were men, and one was a woman, ranging in age from 20 to 93. The majority of the victims were white, with some individuals belonging to black, mixed ethnicity, and Asian groups. Disturbingly, 13 of the deceased individuals were found to have mental health conditions, highlighting the significance of mental health concerns in such cases. Additionally, the prevalence of alcohol and drug links among those who died further underscores the complexity of the issues surrounding these incidents.
Challenges Beyond Policing
Commentary: The acting director-general of IOPC, Tom Whiting, expressed deep concern over the sharp rise in deaths and stressed that this issue extends beyond policing. Vulnerable individuals facing crises often do not receive the specialized care they need from other services, leading them to come into contact with the police, who may not be equipped to provide appropriate support. Whiting called for collaborative action among various agencies to prevent such fatalities. He emphasized that police forces must not bear the burden of being the primary responders in situations involving vulnerable individuals in distress.
Urgent Need for Collaboration and Support
Commentary: Whiting highlighted the importance of initiatives like the Right Care, Right Person scheme, which aims to improve healthcare and mental health support on the frontline. To address the challenges associated with these incidents, police leaders, health systems, and the justice sector need to work closely together to enhance arrangements for supporting individuals in distress. The IOPC will closely monitor the development of such initiatives and advocate for concerted action to prevent deaths in police custody.
Broader Context of Police Contact
Commentary: The IOPC’s annual data also shed light on other aspects of police contact. Fatal road traffic incidents decreased to 26, the lowest since 2020/21, and fatal police shootings increased slightly to three. However, recorded apparent suicides following custody remained a significant concern, with 52 cases reported. These deaths underscore the urgent need for continued efforts to prevent fatalities and provide timely and appropriate support to those in crisis.
Calls for Preventative Measures
Commentary: Lucy Mckay from the charity INQUEST stressed the importance of preventing deaths at the hands of the police, particularly in cases involving mental illness or intoxication, and the use of force and restraint. She emphasized that many of these fatalities are preventable with early interventions and support. This further reinforces the need for a holistic approach, focusing on preventative measures and collaborative efforts across various sectors to protect vulnerable individuals.
The recent surge in deaths in or following police custody has raised concerns, prompting the recognition of complex challenges that extend well beyond policing. Addressing this critical issue requires coordinated efforts, with a focus on enhancing mental health support, addressing substance abuse, and ensuring appropriate interventions are in place to prevent tragedies. Collaborative action, in conjunction with comprehensive reforms, will be vital in creating a safer and more supportive environment for vulnerable individuals in crisis.