This is the 15th year of these national statistics, which provide an official record setting out the number of such deaths, the circumstances in which they happen, and underlying factors.
Commenting on this year’s figures, IOPC director general Michael Lockwood yesterday said:
“These deaths have a tragic and lifelong impact on the family and friends of those who have died, and the police officers who are involved.
“It is of critical importance that we analyse the circumstances of each and identify if there are lessons to be learnt in the hope we can prevent future deaths from occurring.
“Figures across the different categories each year fluctuate, and need to be treated with caution in the context of the hundreds of thousands of interactions the police have with the public each year.
“This year we’ve seen a reduction in the number of deaths in or following police custody, with no deaths occurring in a police custody suite itself. This reflects the importance of ongoing work, to which we have contributed, to ensure police custody offers a safe as environment as possible.
“However, it is of concern that again, there is a high proportion of people dying during and immediately after custody who are vulnerable through mental health and links to drugs and alcohol.
“While this is perhaps unsurprising against a backdrop of rising numbers of drug deaths in wider society and pressures on mental health services, the fact that this continues to be a major factor every year highlights the reliance on police as first-responders.
“These statistics bring into sharp focus the need for all police officers, including the proposed 20,000 new police recruits, to have up to date training in recognising and managing vulnerabilities in those they come into contact with.
“But this is not just a policing issue – it’s a system-wide issue, which needs a concerted response by all those involved to prevent future deaths from occurring.
“The increase in pursuit-related deaths this year points to a continued need for ongoing scrutiny of this area of policing. Police drivers need to be able to pursue suspects and respond quickly to emergency calls as part of their duty, but it’s not without risk. This includes risks not only for the police and the driver of any pursued vehicle, but for passengers, bystanders and other road users. Pursued drivers bear responsibility for their own actions but police officers should also take into account risks to the public and only undertake a pursuit where it is safe to do so, and where authorised.
“In this context, the Government’s decision to introduce a new legislative test that will assess the standard of driving that a police officer is held to when undertaking a police pursuit or responding to an emergency call, is broadly welcomed.
“Police officers who are appropriately trained and skilled should be able to respond to an emergency without fear that they will face unfair consequences. But we need to balance this with ensuring that any change to legislation does not have the unintended consequence of reducing public safety or undermine the ability to hold the police to account effectively.
“I will be sharing this report with the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Ministerial Board on Deaths in Custody to highlight the need for ongoing vigilance and action.”