Bristol, England – New data has emerged regarding a number of deaths linked to interactions with Avon and Somerset Constabulary during the last fiscal year. This revelation comes as the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) voices concerns about the heavy reliance on police as the primary responders to individuals in crisis.
According to the IOPC, there were a total of six deaths associated with Avon and Somerset Constabulary in the 2022-23 fiscal year. These included one death in or following police custody, one resulting from a road traffic accident involving police, and one classified as an apparent suicide. Additionally, three more deaths occurred during incidents involving the constabulary that were investigated by the IOPC. These incidents ranged from police assisting medical staff in restraining someone to responding to situations that ultimately resulted in fatalities.
The acting director-general of the IOPC, Tom Whiting, emphasized the need for action across various agencies to prevent such deaths, particularly among vulnerable individuals in need of specialist care. He echoed concerns raised by police chiefs about the strain on resources due to mental health incidents and the over-reliance on the police service as first responders.
Nationwide, deaths in or following police custody rose from 11 in 2021-22 to 23 last year, the highest figure since 2017-18. Among these were a total of 196 deaths involving the police, including 52 apparent suicides, three fatal shootings, and 28 deaths from road traffic accidents.
Inquest, a charity that examines state-related deaths, believes that many of these deaths are preventable. A spokesperson for Inquest highlighted issues of institutional racism, disproportionate use of force, and neglect of people in need of care, advocating for resources to be redirected into community, health, welfare, and specialist services.
Deputy Chief Constable Nev Kemp, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for custody, stated that every death is a tragedy and undergoes thorough investigation and scrutiny. He acknowledged the challenges and risks in custody environments and mentioned a new national partnership agreement aimed at introducing a new approach for police forces in handling health incidents where policing may not be the best response.
In summary, the recent increase in deaths following police contact, particularly those involving vulnerable individuals, has raised concerns about the reliance on police as first responders in crisis situations and the need for a collaborative approach across various agencies to prevent such tragedies.