Policing and law enforcement in democracies depend on a combination of public consent and acceptance of the legitimacy of the state’s ability to use coercive force. The collection, recording and publication of data about the deprivation of life in policing and law enforcement situations is a basic step toward ensuring the responsiveness of police agencies and their accountability under the rule of law.
Despite the importance of lethal force, relatively little is known internationally about how often it takes and under what circumstances. Existing monitoring efforts tend to focus on police killings in specific nations or cities, and usually do not allow for comparisons across jurisdictions, or to detect patterns or trends over time.
Our project, Monitoring Lethal Force, has three principal long-term aims:
There is also a Dutch summary available.
Police Lethal Force and Accountability: Monitoring Deaths in Western Europe was launched on Thursday 11th February 2021. The video here includes the presentations given as part of that launch.
Police Lethal Force and Accountability: Monitoring Deaths in Western Europe can be summarized as follows:
The use of force by the police and other law enforcement officers has long been a significant topic of concern, especially when it results in death. This issue and the controversies around it have recently been highlighted by a series of high profile deaths in 2020.
Police Lethal Force and Accountability assesses the frequency of deaths, and the availability and reliability of information regarding deaths, associated with the application of force by law enforcement agencies in four jurisdictions: Belgium, England & Wales, France and the Netherlands.
As documented, while deaths from the use of force appear relatively rare across these four jurisdictions when compared to countries such as the US, the procedures and policies for recording, investigating and disclosing details associated with deaths are wanting. The availability of official information on the number of deaths associated with the use of force, its reliability, and the extent of details collected on those who die at the hands of the state vary from country to country. While there are elements of good practice, the procedures and policies are often lacking in critical respects. As a result of such deficiencies, it is difficult to assess many important dimensions of policing; including whether some communities are disproportionality subjected to the lethal use of force.
Ultimately, reducing the extent of police force requires addressing underlying societal conditions associated with employment, health, housing and education. However, more can be done by law enforcement agencies, as well as by their oversight bodies and government ministers. Assembling data and evidence that is accessible, relevant and useful to those concerned with lethal force is a necessary step to enhance accountability for, and thereby possibly prevent, deaths. Police-related bodies not only need to act on what they know but, to demonstrate they are doing so, to the populations they are meant to serve. Every death associated with the use of force by law enforcement officials should be recorded, recognised and investigated. No one’s death should go unacknowledged and unexamined.
In this spirit, the overall conclusion of Police Lethal Force and Accountability is as follows:
Policing agencies considered in Belgium, England & Wales, France and the Netherlands, all need to enhance data collection, publication and analysis of deaths following the use of force in their respective systems. Further, they need to act upon lessons from previous experiences, so as to help prevent future deaths and ensure different communities are not disproportionality subjected to the lethal use of force.
The full report is available for download as PDF here on the left, in English only.
Toward a Lethal Force Monitor was launched on Wednesday 7th July 2021. You can listen (46min),
or alternatively watch the video of the presentations given as part of the launch.
The report can be summarized as follows:
Toward a Lethal Force Monitor assesses the existing procedures and policies for recording, investigating and disclosing information on deaths associated with the application of force by law enforcement officers in Kenya and South Africa. While policing agencies in these countries are overseen by authorities that strive to be an effective check against police impunity, in both concerns can be raised about the public awareness of, access to, and confidence in the information collected on the use of lethal force. Relatedly, evidence that law enforcement agencies analyse information about the use of force in order to identify learning opportunities, or act to revise their policies and practices in light of lessons learnt, is either missing or scant.
Consequently, while Kenya and South Africa have notable police accountability mechanisms in place, both systems still have scope for improvement in making those institutional structures more robust and effective. The country studies of Kenya and South Africa given in this report detailed recommendations for reform.
Toward a Lethal Force Monitor also sets out a future agenda for developing standards for compiling data on the use of lethal force. Currently, a variety of attempts are underway in different countries to monitor police actions. And yet, there are relatively few efforts to assess practices across countries. This report concludes by specifying some of the principles that could underpin the methodology for a comprehensive international Lethal Force Monitor.
Otto Adang is a behavioural scientist and Professor by Special Appointment of Security and Collective Behaviour at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences at the University of Groningen. He also holds a chair in Public Order Management at the Police Academy of the Netherlands since 2004.
He is interested in aggression, reconciliation and collective behaviour in relation to public order enforcement. Since 1998, he has also led the research programme Managing Dangerous Conflict Situations, which focuses on the interaction between police and citizens. He has published numerous papers and books on police use of force issues.
Aline Daillère is an independent researcher. A lawyer by training, specialised in the field of human rights, she previously worked for French NGOs (La Cimade, ACAT). She is now preparing a PhD in political science on police fining practices at the University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin (France).
Her research interests are the use of force by the police, policing of assemblies and the judicial and disciplinary control of police activities. She is the author of L’ordre et la force. Enquête sur l’usage de la force par les représentants de la loi en France (Order and force. Survey on the use of force by law enforcement officials in France) and of the report Affaire Ali Ziri, autopsie d’une enquête judiciaire (Ali Ziri case, autopsy of a judicial enquiry), published by ACAT in 2016 and 2017.
Jasper De Paepe is a PhD fellow and researcher in the research group ‘Governing & Policing Security’ (GaPS) in the Department of Public Governance & Management at Ghent University. His main research interest lies in the management of police innovation and resilience.
Abi Dymond is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Exeter and previously worked for a range of UK NGOs, including the Omega Research Foundation where she focused on police use of force and human rights.
Her current research interests and impact work focus on the use of less lethal weapons by the police and in places of detention. She received the ESRC Impact Prize in 2018 for her work on the new police use of force reporting requirement in England and Wales that is discussed throughout the report.
Marleen Easton is Professor and chair of the research group ‘Governing & Policing Security’ in the Department of Public Governance & Management at Ghent University. She has twenty years of experience conducting qualitative, empirical research on policing and security related topics. Since 2014 she is president of the Belgian Innovation Centre for Security (IUNGOS). Since 2017 she is adjunct professor at the Griffith Criminology Institute participating in the Evolving Security Initiative by running its Ghent hub (ESI@GNE).
Christoffel Hendrik Heyns (1959–2021) was a Professor of Human Rights Law, Director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa as well as formerly Director of the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria. He also was a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee and had served as United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
As both a lawyer and a thinker, he has influenced legal systems around the world with his advocacy for regional mechanisms as part of a global system for the protection of human rights. As a Pan-Africanist, he was particularly eager to enhance the collaboration between the UN and the African Union’s African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Dumisani Gandhi is a PhD student at the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria, exploring the relationship between new technologies and more effective or accountable policing, with a critique of deterministic optimism projected from a northern evidence-base (co-supervised by Thomas Probert).
Stuart Maslen is Honorary Professor at the University of Pretoria. He holds a doctorate in the law of armed conflict and master’s degrees in international human rights law and forensic ballistics.
As well as participating in global weapons law treaty conferences (for UNICEF and the ICRC amongst others), he teaches international human rights and humanitarian law, disarmament law, jus ad bellum, and the protection of civilians as well as writing and editing various books on the subjects.
Beryl Orao is PhD student at the Centre for Human Rights of the University of Pretoria, working on ‘The Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and the Use of Force by Law Enforcement Officials: Rules and Accountability in Kenya’.
Particularly interested in Human Rights and Democracy, Law Enforcement, and Legal Analysis, she was previously Senior Human Rights officer in Kenya.
Lily Oyakhirome is pursuing a PhD on the role of social activism in pursuing police accountability for police abuse of power in Africa, at the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria.
Lily has previously acquired her Master of Law degree at Pretoria, and lectured at the faculty of law of the University of Benin (Nigeria).
Thomas Probert is Lecturer at the University of Pretoria, heading the Freedom From Violence research group, focusing on evidence- and human rights-based approaches.
His main interests are: The politics of human rights (in global and regional settings), accountability, the death penalty, trends in interpersonal violence, evidence-based policy-making with respect to violence, and the history of human rights.
Brian Rappert is a Professor of Science, Technology and Public Affairs at the University of Exeter.
His long term interest has been the examination of the disclosure and concealment of information in situations characterised by uncertainty and disagreement. His books include Controlling the Weapons of War; Biotechnology, Security and the Search for Limits; How to Look Good in a War and The Dis-eases of Secrecy.
Stephen Skinner is a Professor of Comparative Legal History and Legal Theory at the University of Exeter and Director of Exeter Law School’s Human Rights and Democracy Forum.
His research is mainly focused on questions of state power and criminal law in democratic and non-democratic systems; and the application of the Right to Life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights to police uses of lethal and life-threatening force. His publications include a recent monograph entitled Lethal Force, the Right to Life and the ECHR: Narratives of Death and Democracy.
In memory of Christof Heyns, as well as the inspirational driving force behind this report, Anneke Osse.