Dr Lisa Long provides her expert analysis on the Angioloni Review but expresses concerns are around the extent to which the government will take up the mantle and respond to what are some very good recommendations.
The long delayed report of the Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody, chaired by Dame Elish Angiolini is far-reaching in scope and sets out some brave and necessary recommendations for urgent change to policy and practice. The recommendations pertain significantly to the police, but also to the NHS, Local Authorities, Coroners Investigations, The Health and Safety Executive and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
The use of restraint is one of the key issues for the review, in particular the convergence of policing with management and treatment of mental health conditions and the exacerbation of risk of death posed by a mental health crisis. Angiolini should be commended for recognising the role that stereotypes play in shaping the experience and outcome of policing contact for those deemed to pose an exceptional risk. Those experiencing mental health crisis are one such example and those from Black and ethnic minority communities are another. It acknowledges that issues of stereotyping surrounding risk and threat shape police responses and indeed, this recognition is long overdue.
The report evidently draws from the experiences of the families of those who have died in police custody and their welfare and role in the investigation is central to the report and its recommendations. Unsurprisingly, it finds that the families of those who die in police custody have little faith in the Independent Police Complaints Commission with its independence brought into question by the number of former police officers who act as lead investigators. Further, the perception of a failure in accountability is compounded by unnecessary delays in the process and a lack of information about the investigation.
The reviews 110 recommendations are most importantly aimed at preventing future deaths in police custody, through the appropriate use of restraint techniques and an awareness developed through mandatory and standardised training including a focus on de-escalation particularly in response to those most vulnerable. When death follows police contact, the recommendations focus on expediency of the investigation, relieving the emotional and financial burden on the family and loved ones and ensuring transparency and accountability through the established processes.
The Governments initial response to the report indicates that change in some areas will follow. For example, the government has made a commitment to phasing out the use of police stations as a designated place of safety for children detained under Mental Health Act. However, it appears less committed to the provision of automatic access to non-means tested legal aid or a dedicated counselling service to support families to deal with the trauma. It highlights that, in cases where charges of murder or manslaughter are likely to be brought, the family will be eligible to access the Ministry of Justice funded National Homicide Service. Indeed, if the likelihood of criminal investigation continues to follow the current pattern, most families will remain ineligible for support.
Crucially however, the government has so far failed to respond to or acknowledge the claim made in the review that ’deaths of people from BAME communities, in particular young Black men, resonate with the Black community’s experience of systemic racism, and reflect wider concerns about discriminatory over-policing, stop and search, and criminalisation (5.6)’. In response to ethnic disproportionality, the government refers to the rolling out of unconscious bias training. This approach focuses on the individuals unconsciously held attitudes and beliefs but avoids dealing with the entrenched institutional racism within the police service. Lessons must be learnt from the failure of the post-Macpherson reform to result in any meaningful and sustained change in how Black and ethnic minority communities experience policing. This highlights the risk posed by defensive or denial responses in mitigating against meaningful and sustainable change.
It is imperative that this government responds with urgent legislative and policy responses and investment in services in order to prevent further deaths in custody. One death is one death too many. As argued by Stafford Scott, if the government fail to act in the face of these robust evidence based recommendations, the Home Office will be to blame for likely future deaths in custody- they will have blood on their hands.
Dr Lisa Long is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Leeds Beckett University. Her teaching and research interests focus on race and racism in policing. She is currently writing a book –Perpetual Suspects?: A Critical Race Theory of Black and Mixed-Race experiences of Policing – to be published by Palgrave Macmillan in Summer 2018.