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We are committed to keeping the communities of Thames Valley safe. Ideally this is best done through preventative measures and we actively engage with our communities to promote these messages. However, there will always be occasions when we will have to resort to using force to achieve control of people who resist or are violent to make sure people are safe. Our staff are confronted with difficult and dangerous situations every day. They walk towards danger when others walk away, thinking and acting quickly to keep people safe, and, as part of these duties, officers will occasionally need to use force. We cannot keep the public safe unless we ourselves are safe.
In order that this can be done all police officers whatever rank or department and whether they are a regular officer, special constabulary and certain staff, e.g. custody officers receive special training. The purpose of this training is to maintain the safety of the officer or staff member, the public and the subject.
This training starts with a basic course. After which all officers have to refresh their training annually. The programs include the use of personal protection equipment [PPE]. Depending on their role this can include body armour, handcuffs, batons, synthetic pepper spray, restraint devices and tasers. In addition to this Authorised Firearms Officers [AFO’s] have a separate rigorous training regime in the use of their special weapons and tactics.
The training also equips officers to show the justification necessary to ensure that applying force is reasonable, proportionate, lawful and necessary.
All officers when resorting to using any force – even the compliant application of handcuffs - must submit a report describing the circumstances. The information this provides is scrutinised to ensure that any learning can be acted upon to minimise the chance of injury to both officers and subjects in future incidents.
We do not underestimate the impact any use of force has on individuals and communities. We know that to maintain public confidence, police use of force must be in a fair and effective manner.
The force has a commitment to becoming more open and transparent. Part of this is being better at sharing and engaging on some of the powers that our police officers use to keep people safe, and that includes use of force.
Use of force powers are scrutinised at all levels to ensure that officers fully understand their powers. Each Local Policing Area (LPA) has a dedicated Inspector responsible for checking use of force is conducted correctly and any learning is fed back to the officer involved. The data toolkits are discussed at quarterly meetings chaired by senior officers and any concerns are discussed with the relevant LPA for them to be looked into and reported back on, to ensure that any learning or best practice is shared.
Enquiries that have been conducted include reviews of incidents within police custody, links between assaults on police officers and the defensive tactics that the police use to prevent violence, and the ease of capturing use of force data that is reported by officers. The collection of accurate use of force data improved in July 2022 when the Thames Valley Police launched an app enabling officers to report use of force on their phone: this will enable us to develop an increasingly accurate picture over the coming months. Although the new dataset is still relatively immature, we recognise that the data shows a black person is approximately 5 times more likely to have force used on them than a white person. This follows a similar pattern to stop & search and other police powers such as arrests. Thames Valley Police are examining and challenging the underlying patterns of activity that contribute to such disproportionality, including how handcuffs are applied to people in different situations, and patterns in the type of offences which lead to relevant police encounters such as drugs and knife crime. Thames Valley Police’s Race Action Plan 2023-25 provides a framework for analyses and review at local and national level.
We also need views from the public. We recognise that many people have concerns about whether the police use force fairly. Our Independent Advisory Groups (IAG), provide insights to help shape our service for the benefit of all our communities to maximise trust and confidence.
In addition to local IAGs, there is a force wide IAG specifically for Police Powers. The Stop and Search Independent Advisory Group (SSIAG) liaise with the local IAG’s and receive referrals from them for further review and discussion. A member of the Professional Standards Department is involved in these quarterly SSIAG meetings, where complaints around use of force are presented and discussed for trends and patterns.
There are also community scrutiny panels across the force, which is an area we are keen to expand. If you are interested to know more, please contact your local police station and ask for the Use of Force single point of contact (SPOC)