Public Trust in the Police’s Use of Force: Trustworthy or Dubious?

The government makes all the rules, executes them, and prosecutes whoever disobeys the law. The police are expected to enforce the laws of the land. And when all diplomatic ways of curbing crime fail, they use force to alleviate the problems of crime somehow.

In this article, we will see how the UK police use force to maintain peace and order and the public perception of the police’s use of force. Does the police force use force in a just, humane manner?

How Does the Police Use Force?

Police’s use of force is nothing new in their protocols. This act is even backed up by law, per the Criminal Law Act of 1967, Section 3. It states that “A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large.” Not only the police force can make such arrests, but virtually all the citizens of the UK. Such force may be used for self-defense, defense of another person, defense of property, crime prevention, and lawful arrest. The Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) adds some provisions on the last two instances, as necessity may not be equated with rationality. These are some of the factors that must be considered:

  • the nature and degree of force used;
  • the seriousness of the offense which is being prevented or in respect of which an arrest is being made; and
  • the nature and degree of any force used against an officer by a person resisting arrest
  • Information about guidance or training that an officer has received may be used to determine what is reasonable.

The police usually utilize three ways of restraining violence on rowdy people. Here are the three methods:

  • Physical restraint (such as arm locks and pressure compliance)
  • Batons and incapacitant sprays (e.g., “pepper spray”)
  • Firearms, tasers, and other restraining equipment

Public Perceptions on Police’s Use of Force

The police force has been notorious for being “abusive” and “unjust.” Does this claim hold true? In this part, we will reveal some statistics that reflect how the public perceives the police’s use of force.

A 2015 survey conducted by the research agency TNS BMRB on behalf of the then-IPCC (now Independent Office for Police Conduct or IOPC) shows a staggering amount of support by the citizens on the reasonable use of force. 83% of those surveyed agree to the police’s use of force, as long as it is rational and humane. Older people (age 55+) have the highest regard for the police’s use of force. Meanwhile, the minority population that consists of people of African and other descent and the people of London are not that convinced that the police use force justly. As expected, people who experienced the police’s use of force have opposing views on such action.

The public had limited awareness of what the police can legally use on law enforcement, but they have high trust that the police will abide by the laws. They also think that the key considerations of the police’s use of force are the aim, risk, and impact of using force to ensure compliance with the law. The people surveyed also agree that personal characteristics must not affect how the police’s decision-making unless it impacts the vulnerability and physicality of an individual. The vulnerability of an individual (e.g., mental health concerns) must also be taken into account when using force.

When it comes to the readiness of the police, under half of the people surveyed, agree that the police are more than ready to use force compared to 10 years ago, whereas a third say otherwise. A quarter is concerned about how the police use force, while 1 out of 25 people have more severe concerns regarding the police’s use of force.

The public perceives that the police use force in high-risk situations that may harm the public, individual, or the police themselves. The people also see the police use firearms rarely, though they feel that the police use these four times more often than reality.

Lastly, people also believe that no particular type of force is superior to others, and the use of force is generally accepted in several situations

Some Insights on Police’s Use of Force (News Articles)

With the COVID-19 pandemic still ravaging worldwide, we may expect that the police will use force less, as criminals are “afraid” of getting the contagious disease, and everyone is in lockdown. However, this is not the case. According to The Guardian’s article, although there was a 15% decline in the crime rate, there was a 12.5% increase in the use of force from April to June 2020. The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) defends this intensification of the use of force as “greater proactive policing against known criminals.” But critics are not swayed by this rhetoric, as they claim that the police are currently using this pandemic as a strategy “to selectively reassert an aggressive, command-and-control style of policing.” The Met police’s spokesperson reaffirmed the statement of NPCC that says they are increasing police activity for proactivity, thus the increase of police’s use of force despite the pandemic.

In a more recent article by the BBC, the police’s use of force is said to differ among black and white people. The article reports that the British Transport Police officers used force 6,325 times from 2019 to 2020, with one in five cases involving black people. Based on the figures from the Department for Transport (DfT), this shows that black people will be six times more likely to experience police’s use of force. Figures also show 17.5% of all methods of use-of-force involved black people.

Overall, the public trust in the police is still high, though there are still doubts on how the police practice force in law enforcement. The public still believes the police are impartial in enforcing laws, though we must still be observant. With the rise of the use of police force in these trying times, we must check if they really practice the use of force in accordance to laws. Do not be afraid of reporting police abuse to the proper authorities, so they may be disciplined accordingly.

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.