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.
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.
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).
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 Anneke Osse, the inspirational driving force behind this report.