Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC - formerly IPCC)
Poplar incident to inform national recommendation on how police officers deal with potential medical emergencies
An investigation has recently concluded which identified opportunities for national learning.
A national recommendation on police officer training is being developed to improve the way officers deal with people who present as unwell or suffering a medical emergency.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has been working with the College of Policing (COP) and National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) to see how the learning we have identified from the incident can be incorporated into every officer’s training and update any relevant guidance. This could form part of scenario-based training as early as April 2021.
In July 2019, Youness Bentahar was restrained during an arrest in Poplar and appeared to have a seizure, with evidence suggesting some of the officers were unsure it was genuine. However, this did not impact on the care he received, as a support team of other police officers arrived quickly and provided medical treatment before handing him into the care of paramedics.
The arrest was videoed by members of the public and shared widely on social media at the time.
Our investigation highlighted the need for officers to fully understand the risks of not treating people according to how they present and assuming the medical conditions or illnesses are not genuine.1 (see Notes below). Police have a common law duty of care to a detainee and are already trained in first aid. Although no individual learning was given, it will be covered in our national recommendation.
Our investigation concluded in April, with the Metropolitan Police (MPS) agreeing an officer should reflect2 as part of a new formal process introduced in February 2020 on how he could have handled the incident better to avoid an alleged minor traffic offence escalating into a restraint3, taking a more conversational approach to the five-step communication model.4 We agreed with the MPS that there was no case to answer for misconduct.
We looked at the officer’s use of force and communication when arresting Mr Bentahar and issues around disability, religion, gender and racial discrimination after community members raised particular concerns. Mr Bentahar also stated he felt he was racially discriminated against.
During the incident, Mr Bentahar was asked several times to move his car, parked on a yellow line and displaying a blue badge, as it was causing an obstruction. Mr Bentahar did not move the car so officers tried to arrest him. He resisted and was restrained, during which he appeared to have a seizure.
The IOPC worked with the local community to provide reassurance and confidence in police accountability and the complaints system.
We explained our role in conducting an independent investigation which looked at the actions of the officers leading up to and including the arrest and restraint of Mr Bentahar against relevant training, legislation and local and national policy and guidance.
This included their initial contact with Mr Bentahar and his wife, and their decision that the car was parked unlawfully and had to be moved; their engagement with them and any consideration given to the children in the car; the decision to arrest Mr Bentahar; the force used on him; the medical care provided to Mr Bentahar; and whether there was any evidence of discrimination on the grounds of disability, race, gender and religion.
Our investigation included a review of BWV footage. To consider the concerns around discrimination, we looked at comparative evidence, including sampling clips from the officer’s BWV footage of previous interactions with other members of the public.
We also interviewed independent witnesses and the officer’s colleagues. The officer himself was interviewed under criminal caution, although the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) subsequently decided no charges were to be brought against him.
Though we agreed with the MPS that there was no case to answer for misconduct on use of force and discrimination, we did feel that, as the car was displaying a blue badge, more could have been done to identify whether any reasonable adjustments around disability needed to be made.
IOPC Regional Director for London, Sal Naseem, yesterday said:
“This was a thorough and detailed investigation of an incident that attracted significant public interest at the time.
“Our investigation looked at a range of factors including discrimination and use of force and found the best outcome was reflective practice2 for the officer.
“We were concerned that Mr Bentahar’s apparent seizure was not taken seriously by some officers and it should have been. That’s why we are looking at how this can inform national training, as a key part of our role is to help prevent these issues from happening again. This can only be in the interests of both the police and the public.”
- The NPCC has taught multi-officer responsibility for continually assessing a detainee’s condition (Speak Up, Speak Out), with particular responsibility given to the Safety Officer(s) (Considerations for Safer Restraint). This also forms part of the National Decision Model step: “Gather information and intelligence.” Checks for unresponsiveness, and recognition/treatment of seizures clearly sit within first aid training.
- The officer reflecting on his actions is a formal process reflected in legislation. The reflective practice review process consists of a fact-finding stage and a discussion stage, followed by the production of a reflective review development report. The discussion must include, in particular:
- a discussion of the practice requiring improvement and related circumstances that have been identified, and
- the identification of key lessons to be learnt by the participating officer, line management or police force concerned, to address the matter and prevent a reoccurrence of the matter.
- steps he could have taken to resolve the situation
- adopting a more conversational approach
- using a more effective use of the five-step appeal process, (see above note) before escalating to arrest
- why there were community concerns around race and disability following the incident.
- If someone is stopped by the police, officers should follow a five-step communication model:
- Simple appeal: “Ask the individual to comply with the officer’s request…”
- Reasoned appeal: “Explain why the request has been made, what law if any has been broken, and what conduct has caused the request”.
- Personal appeal: “This may remind the individual that they may be jeopardising values that are high priorities to them such as: … the possibility of a criminal record and its potential impact upon future job applications…”
- Final appeal: “At this stage individuals have confirmed their resistance to the officer’s requests. The officer should now finally tell them what is required and use a phrase that means the same as the following example: Is there anything I can reasonably do to make you co-operate with me/us?”
- Action: “Reasonable force may be the only option left in a case of continued resistance. The option that the officer may choose will be based upon the threat that they perceive…”
- The COP and NPCC’S Self Defence, Arrest and Restraint Working Group has also updated the national personal safety training manual to give further guidance to officers to enable them to better establish if there are any medical implications that require immediate attention when they are arresting an individual.
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