Authors of this report acknowledge how deaths in custody have shaken public confidence particularly within black and ethnic minority communities where there have been a disturbing number of deaths following police custody.
The numbers of black people who have lost their lives while in police custody is detailed in the introduction of this report, with an acknowledgement that these deaths are inextricably linked to the wider debate about racism within the police force.
This new report examined deaths in or following custody over an 11 year period in order to identify trends, examine the nature of the deaths and identify lessons that can be learnt to prevent future deaths from occurring.
Between 1998/99 and 2008/09 there were a total of 333 deaths in or following police custody, with almost half between the ages 25 and 44 when they died.
Cause of deaths was also looked at with the findings showing that black people are significantly more likely to be restrained by police officers than their white counterparts and that restraint was related to death in 16 cases, a quarter of which were from people from minority communities.
IPCC evidence also shows that almost half the deaths of people in police custody are mental health service users and have set out recommendations to phase out the use of cells as places of safety for those detained under the Mental Health Act.
‘We welcome the recommendations in this report but are clear that a radical overhaul in the perception and treatment of black service users is needed for deaths in custody to end. The urgency of this can by no means be underestimated; this year alone we have seen service user deaths that could have been avoided if the police had not been involved.
The recommendations made in this report are welcomed, but come far too late for many families who have needlessly lost a loved one because failures to carry routine risks assessment or because officers breached their own policies and procedures in relation to custody matters.
The racist attitudes of individual officers plays a major part in the way people are perceived and treated when they are taken into custody, the IPCC needs to ensure structures are put in place to root this out if we are to see the death rate of innocent people from the community come down,’ Matilda MacAttram director of Black Mental Health UK said.