New community panel scrutinises police use of force

A new panel of community members has been established to scrutinise the use of force by Bedfordshire Police officers.

Jul 1, 2020
By Paul Jacques

The panel is believed to be the first of its kind in the country and uses a ‘traffic light’ grading system to provide “unprecedented external oversight” of officers’ actions.

Chief Inspector Hob Hoque, Bedfordshire Police’s lead for use of force, said it was important to invite scrutiny to ensure it has “legitimacy and trust from the public”.

The scheme has been highlighted nationally as an example of best practice and Montell Neufville, the panel’s independent chair, said: “There are times when we know force should be used and there are times when force should not be used.

“By looking at how individual officers use force, the aim is to feedback any patterns that arise, any learning that needs to be shared with officers, any worrying trends or any behaviours which the scrutiny panel may think is unacceptable.”

At the panel’s first ‘virtual’ meeting last week, members reviewed body-worn and CCTV video of three incidents in which Bedfordshire Police officers had used force on members of the public.

As well as detaining people using handcuffs, the footage also included officers using PAVA spray. One of the incidents shown took place in a custody cell.

The panel meeting was held over a secure video conferencing facility, making use of digital technology to allow the scrutiny to take place while maintaining social distancing.

Community members were able to check police data to ensure force was being used by officers in a manner that was fair and not disproportionate.

The videos selected for scrutiny are independently chosen by the panel chair and vice-chair.

Panel members then review the actions and behaviour of all parties involved before grading the use of force by the Bedfordshire Police officers as either green, amber or red.

Chief Insp Hoque said: “Being open and transparent about how we use these powers is absolutely vital to ensure we continue to have the public’s confidence and police by consent.

“The Black Lives Matter movement has shone a light on all of us as police officers. We all have powers bestowed upon us and it is essential that we use these powers legitimately to protect our communities.

“That’s why it is so important we invite scrutiny and reflection from people outside the police, to ensure we have that legitimacy and trust from the public.”

He added: “All feedback recorded by the panel will be given to the officers involved, as well as reflected on by myself and other senior officers to amend and improve our policies in this area.”

Mr Neufville said: “Scrutiny is a two-way process. This was a first panel meeting but a lot of work has been done behind the scenes to move to a situation where we can carry out scrutiny. It’s a credit to Bedfordshire Police that they are open and transparent.”

The community scrutiny panel is a sub-group of a similar scheme involving stop and search, in which the panel reviews footage of stop searches carried out by officers, as well as how often these powers are used on different ethnic groups.

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