The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) says its investigations into deaths during or following police contact have helped to reduce the number of fatalities.

IPCC chair Dame Anne Owers made the claim while announcing the body’s tenth annual statistical report, which shows a marked decrease in the number of many police-related deaths since the records began a decade ago.

While recognising the gravity of every reported fatality, Dame Anne said: “It is still good news that the deaths of those who are in or following police custody are continuing to fall.”

She added that deaths following road traffic incidents, including police pursuits and police vehicles responding to emergency calls, were also at the lowest level recorded by the IPCC.

More “good news” comes in the fatal shootings category in 2013/14, with none reported for the second consecutive year.

Sadly, in two other categories the death toll is rising. Deaths following police contact are higher than they were ten years ago, and the number of apparent suicides in the 48 hours following police custody is at its highest since IPCC records began.

The 2013/14 report records:

  • 12 road traffic fatalities (down from 44 in 2004/5), resulting from police vehicle activity, including police pursuits and police vehicles responding to an emergency call.
  • No fatal shootings by police. The highest recorded was 5 in both 2005/6 and 2007/8.
  • 11 deaths in or following custody. The highest level was 36 in 2004/5.
  • 68 apparent suicides, an all-time peak, 22 more than in 2004/5 when records began.
  • 39 other deaths resulting in an IPCC investigation – most commonly after police were called over concern for someone’s safety.

Any lawyer dealing with complaints against the police will find the general fall in numbers encouraging as it suggests the oft-heard promise that “lessons will be learned” is being acted upon.

However, as Dame Anne also points out, mental illness is present in many reported deaths, with over a third who die in custody and two thirds of people apparently committing suicide after custody known to have mental health problems.

It is hoped that mental illness will be increasingly dealt with appropriately by police, and taken as seriously as the use of safer restraints, police driver training and weapons handling in preventing deaths.

The numbers of some fatalities may be falling, but, as Dame Anne remarked: “Every single death is an individual tragedy.”