Number of deaths from police road chases and shootings soars

The number of people killed in police road chases or shot dead by officers in 2016/17 was the highest in over a decade.

Six people were killed in police shootings in 2016/17, twice the number the previous year, making it the worst since the police watchdog started collecting the figures in 2004. They included the Westminster attacker, Khalid Masood, though not the three men shot dead by police during the London Bridge attacks, who will be included in this year’s figures.

The number killed in pursuits more than doubled to 28 from the 13 killed in 2015/16. The 32 killed in all road traffic incidents involving police was up by 52% on the previous year – its highest level in the last eight years.

None of the road chases in which someone was killed last year was a response to an emergency and “two-thirds of the people who died were passengers, bystanders or other road users”, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said.

“There has been a shocking rise in fatal police shootings, the highest number since the IPCC began. Also a significant and concerning rise in the number of police pursuit related road traffic accidents. The IPCC suggest that most of these deaths have occurred despite police policy being followed, begging the question of how effective and safe these policies are,” said Deborah Coles, the director of Inquest, which campaigns for the families of people who have died after contact with the police.

Dame Anne Owers, the IPCC chair, said: “The rise in pursuit-related deaths is noticeable … All but two incidents involved cars. Pursuits are dynamic and fast-moving events, and there are authorised procedures to ensure that they are as safe as possible. When we investigate, we examine whether those procedures have been followed, taking account of known risks.”

She said that was the case in most incidents but raised the possibility that police would have to rethink their policies, “given the rise in fatalities”.

While the number of fatal shootings represented a large year-on-year increase, Owers urged caution when interpreting the data, saying that it should be seen in the context of the thousands of armed operations carried out each year. As an example, she cited 2015/16, when there were 14,700. “Investigations into three of the 2016/17 incidents are complete and, as in the great majority of firearms investigations, we have found no indication of misconduct by any firearms officer.”

The figures revealed that the number of people who died in or following police custody remained the same as in the previous year at 14 – the second lowest figure recorded by the watchdog and less than half the number seen when it was created in 2004. It is also broadly in line with the average number over the last eight years.

The IPCC said that 11 of those who died in or following police custody were known to have a link to alcohol and/or drugs, while eight were identified as having mental health concerns. Owers called each of the deaths an “individual tragedy”.

Coles said there was a “depressing picture” behind the statistics. “That some of the numbers and patterns are so similar to last year’s report suggest an unacceptable lack of learning and change following previous deaths.

“While the police cannot and should not be the default service responsible for those with mental and physical health concerns, where they are called to act they must do so with care and dignity.

There were also 55 apparent suicides following police custody, down from 60 in 2015/16 and the lowest figure since 2012/13.

Earlier this month, human rights groups accused the home secretary of sitting on a report into such deaths after its publication was delayed. It was due to be completed last summer and, though Amber Rudd has received it, the Home Office has confirmed only that it will be released “in due course”.

A letter published in the Guardian, signed by groups including Liberty, the Runnymede Trust and criminal justice groups, read: “The continued and unexplained delays suggest the government is holding back on publishing the report.”

It added: “By releasing the report of the independent review, the government can begin to convince bereaved families that is committed to transparency and justice for the families affected by deaths in custody.”

On Monday evening, campaigners held a vigil for 20-year-old Rashan Charles, who died after contact with the police in east London at the weekend. Last month, a demonstration was also held over the death of Edson Da Costa after his arrest.

Owers, acknowledged the “concern about deaths that follow the restraint of an individual by the police”, while Coles said: “There is quite rightly disquiet about the fact that three black men have died after being restrained by police in the last five weeks. The much delayed Angiolini review must be published as a matter of urgency in the hope that it will address the repeated patterns of failure highlighted in this report.”

Owers said the commission had investigated nine deaths in similar circumstances over the course of the year, though that did not “necessarily mean that the restraint contributed to the death”.

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