UK

'Very bureaucratic' 10-page use-of-force form sparks police complaints

Police officer holds man in handcuffs Image copyright iStock
Image caption Handcuffing must be recorded as a use of force

Police officers in England and Wales have criticised a new 10-page form they have to fill out every time they use any kind of force against someone.

Since April this year officers have had to record a series of details every time they use handcuffs, CS spray or draw a baton.

One Police Federation official said the new process was "very bureaucratic".

But the Home Office defended the form, saying it would help bring about "unprecedented transparency".

The new rules were announced in March by Mrs May's successor as Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, with the aim of ensuring that police record every encounter involving force.

Some in the police say the form could help to counter "accusations" that officers use excessive force.

Simon Kempton, operational lead on policing for the Police Federation, said: "We will now be able to argue, with solid evidence, that in comparison to the huge numbers of incidents we attend, we rarely have to resort to using force."

He said the data would demonstrate that police "always try to use the lowest level of force available to us".

Ms Rudd said that "when police take the difficult decision to deploy force, it is also vital that the people they serve can scrutinise it.

"These new rules will introduce unprecedented transparency to this important subject and reinforce the proud British model of policing by consent."

'Over-engineered'

But John Apter, chairman of the Hampshire Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said filling out the 10-page form had proved to be like "writing an exam essay".

Mr Apter said he understood the need to capture data about the use of force, but thought the process was too complex and took too long, especially at a time when police were already over-stretched.

It is "over-engineered", he said.

"I know officers who haven't got the time to fill in the form," he said, adding that in some city forces, such as London's Metropolitan Police, officers might have to fill in six forms on each shift.

He believes a better approach would be to scan officers' pocketbooks and use samples of these to provide and analyse data.

Jan Berry, a former Police Federation chairman who worked with the Home Office to cut red tape, said there was "absolutely no reason" to introduce the form.

"I sort of despair, and think have we gone backwards?" she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme, describing the process as "the wrong way".

Ms Berry, who produced a report on reducing bureaucracy for the Conservative-led coalition in 2010, said the information on the form was already being collected by custody officers.

"That information is being captured anyway, certainly if they've arrested a person or used handcuffs," she said.

Image copyright NPCC
Image caption Officers must mark a diagram to indicate where on the body force was used

Police forces will begin publishing data from the forms over the next couple of weeks.

The rules require a "use of force monitoring form", administered by the National Police Chiefs' Council, to be completed "as soon as practicable" after any incident involving force.

A separate form must be completed for each person on whom force is used and officers are expected to complete forms for their own constabulary, even if the incident took place in another police force's area.

The forms require full details of the incident, including location, whether officers were themselves threatened or assaulted and what sort of force they used.

Officers are expected to mark a diagram showing what areas of the person's body the force was used on, whether the person was injured and whether medical assistance was offered or provided.

Spit-guards

Previously each force was required to provide details of the use of Tasers and firearms, but the new rules also ask for details of the use of batons, spit-guards, dogs, shields, handcuffs and unarmed restraint, as well as irritant sprays such as CS.

Speaking in May 2011, during her six years as Home Secretary, Mrs May promised that her policies would "do away with the bureaucratic accountability of the past. So we will free the police to do their job".

"I have said loud and clear that the days of the bureaucrats controlling and managing the police from Whitehall are over.

"The Home Office will no longer scrutinise and supervise police performance and come up endlessly with new schemes and initiatives."

A Home Office spokeswoman said the changes were "police-led".

"Our police reforms have overhauled the previous cumbersome regime of top-down targets and unnecessary bureaucracy," the spokeswoman said.

"But when officers take the difficult decision to deploy force it is vital that they can be scrutinised by the people they serve.

"These rules changes, which are police-led, bring unprecedented transparency and reinforce the proud British model of policing by consent."