I would like to thank all those that completed the July consultation on this hugely important area of policing business.
1,621 people completed the survey, giving a valuable insight into the public’s understanding and opinions of issues such as Taser, firearms and handcuffing.
The consultation aimed to complement new national guidelines that require Dorset Police to record and publish quarterly data on their officers’ use of force, by identifying trends and ensuring that police forces are held to account by the communities they serve.
Under this recording system, officers are required to record all uses of force, answering a total of fifty questions set by the Home Office. At present, this includes compliant handcuffing, where the arrested person presents no physical or verbal challenge to being handcuffed and makes no attempt to resist.
61% of respondents argued that compliant handcuffing should not be subject to this process, with 17% being indifferent. Only a minority therefore had an expectation that officers record this practice as a use of force. I have had concerns about the demand this will place on officer time and will be presenting this result to police leaders as the recording process evolves.
Dorset Police has recently announced that the number of Taser trained officers will be increased to 250. When asked about this level of Taser deployment, 61% of respondents did not feel this was enough officers. 70% also agreed that they would feel safer if more officers carried a Taser.
I welcomed the Taser uplift and am confident that the decision was made by the Force after a thorough assessment of threat, risk and harm. However it is vital that important decisions, such as how officers are equipped, continue to be informed by public opinion. The Taser uplift will be regularly monitored and evaluated to ensure the level is fit for purpose.
Policing is constantly operating within a rapidly evolving landscape, from the challenges posed by terrorism to the increase in reported knife crime. Against this backdrop, the debate on routine arming of officers has been brought to the fore. Alongside other PCCs, I strongly oppose this prospect and felt it important to include this topic in consultation to ensure that any future decisions were mindful of public views.
45% of respondents were satisfied with the current level of armed officers in Dorset. 39% said they would like to see more armed officers in Dorset and 15% explicitly stated that they wished to see all officers armed in Dorset.
Additional comments from participants indicated the key concerns held by the public. In particular, participants made reference the challenges of violent offending and terrorism. The aftershock of the horrific Manchester and London attacks earlier this year was also prevalent in the responses. One reads: “If Dorset was subjected to terrorist activity on a scale as recently seen in large cities, Dorset would not cope initially”.
I understand these concerns. Supporting the Taser uplift, encouraging increased working with regional forces and ongoing lobbying activity to increase policing funding for Dorset are just some of the ways I am working to ensure Dorset Police is meeting demand in these areas. Though I stand by my arguments on the effect routine arming would have on the way police engage in our communities, as well as our policing model as a whole, I fully recognise the need to review numbers. Transforming for the future is a key priority of my Police and Crime Plan and this includes future proofing Dorset Police for emerging threats.
Another trend in respondents’ comments was the recognition that officers face complex challenges and it is imperative that they are able to protect themselves and bring incidents to a safe conclusion. A number of comments resonated with me, including: “police officers are called to go into situations that an ordinary person would not want to, so I feel they should have every protection and all equipment to protect not only the general public, but also themselves.”
In the last quarter, 75 officers were assaulted while on duty in Dorset. This is completely unacceptable and earlier this year the Chief Constable and Chairman of the Dorset Police Federation signed a new eight-point plan to support officers who are assaulted on duty. This will add to the preventative methods of rigorous personal safety training and regular evaluation of equipment to support officers when carrying out their duties.
Looking ahead, I will be taking the findings of the consultation, along with the full data set recently published by the Force, to the Use of Force Scrutiny Panel for further analysis. Members of this panel include an independent chair, representatives from partner organisations and members of the public with relevant experience. This will maximise opportunities for learning and I thank all participants for their valuable contributions.