Complaints against Death or Serious Injury (DSI) Matters concerning those serving with the police

DSI stands for Death or Serious Injury. These are circumstances in, or as a result of which, a person has died or has sustained serious injuries when:

  • at the time of death or serious injury, the person was arrested by a person who serves with the police and was not released or was detained by the latter;
  • at or before the time of death or serious injury, the person had contact of any kind with a person serving with the police; and/or
  • there is an indication that the contact with the police may have caused or contributed to the death or serious injury.

An injury is considered to be serious when it consists of a fracture, a deep cut or laceration, or any injury causing damage to an internal organ. It also means the impairment of any bodily function. This definition is from the Police Reform Act of 2002.

The investigators of DSI matters will depend on which police force is involved. Police forces in England and Wales will be investigated by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC); police forces in Northern Ireland will be investigated by the Police Ombudsman; while, police forces in Scotland will be investigated by the Police Investigations Review Commissioner (PIRC). These organizations are generically known as Independent Investigative Authorities (IIAs).

Complaints on DSI matters concerning those serving with the police can be submitted:

  • directly to the Independent Investigative Authorities (IIAs) or
  • through the appropriate authority like the local police force’s professional conduct departments.

When complaints are received by the appropriate authority, it has the responsibility to record it and identify if it is a conduct matter or a DSI matter. If it is a DSI matter, it must refer the complaint to the IIAs without any delay. Further, while waiting for the involvement of the IIAs in the referred DSI matter, the appropriate authority also has three (3) responsibilities, which will be discussed in details below:

  • Responsibility to obtain and preserve evidence
  • Responsibility to identify all non-policing witnesses
  • Responsibility to identify and handle key policing witnesses
  • Responsibility to obtain and preserve evidence

Evidence can be any information drawn to personal accounts, a document or material object, or anything which may potentially be used to establish facts in an investigation. Basically, any object or material which an individual can reasonably perceive to have the potential to assist in an investigation should be preserved.

The appropriate authority must make sure that once they become aware of a DSI matter, they must ensure that evidence is not lost or compromised in any way. However, as a general rule, they must not do any recovery, removal, or analysis without the express agreement of the IOPC (in England & Wales).

However, by way of exception to the general rule, the police can act immediately in these instances without waiting for the approval of the IOPC:

  1. where it is necessary to remove or seize the evidence immediately to prevent loss/deterioration; and
  2. where any action is necessary to protect the public from harm.

In these instances, the police must justify and document any action taken.

  • Responsibility to identify all non-policing witnesses

Non-policing witnesses include members of the public, emergency services staff, and healthcare professionals. Also, anyone who has witnessed any part of the death or serious injury will be a potential witness. The appropriate authority must help to ensure that the witnesses and their evidence will be available for the investigation. While waiting for the involvement of the IOPC, the police should obtain the names and contact details of potential witnesses together with a brief description of the nature of their evidence.

The appropriate authority must note some basic information from the witness such as a concise description of what s/he observed, if they have any relationship to any of the persons involved in the incident, descriptions of individuals referred to and other factors to be considered when assessing identification evidence.

  • Responsibility to identify and handle key policing witnesses

A key policing witness includes a police officer, a special constable under the direction and control of a chief officer, members of the police staff and contracted out staff, and persons serving with the National Crime Agency. These are persons who have significant involvement and/or witnessed or claims to have witnessed all or a part of connected with it. Key policing witnesses should be immediately identified to the death or serious injury.

How does the IOPC conduct its independent investigation regarding a DSI matter

When the IOPC starts its independent investigation, it establishes facts and analyses the evidence to reach a conclusion. The IOPC outlines the parts of the incident or the event which they will investigate, which is called their ‘terms of reference’.

The independent investigators of the IOPC gathers evidence in a number of ways, which may include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Taking statements of people who were able to witness the incident
  • Getting statements from police officers or members of the police staff
  • Checking footage from CCTVs or Body Worn Videos from police officers
  • Obtaining pertinent documents and records
  • Reviewing relevant policies to the incident

What happens after the IOPC concludes an independent investigation?

After the investigation by the IOPC, they produce a report which sets out the details of the incident, the manner how they investigated, the evidence considered and how the same was analyzed. This report will be sent to the police force concerned.

The IOPC also decides what happens to the people involved in the incident. Some examples include further training, or the person/s may face a misconduct meeting or a gross misconduct hearing. These disciplinary actions are usually carried out by the police force concerned. This can also include: a written warning, a final written warning, reduction on rank and dismissal without notice.

Non disciplinary actions may also be taken into account for low level matters of misconduct or performance such as practicing on requiring improvement regarding the same.

This article was prepared by the Association Against Abuse of Police Powers and Privileges (AAAPPP), a UK not-for-profit organisation specializing in assisting victims of abuse of power and corruption in the UK Police.