Published Date: 17.04.2003
A research project by the Police Ombudsman's Office has shown that police officers in Northern Ireland are six times more likely to be assaulted than their colleagues in Great Britain, but about 40 times more likely to receive complaints about their use of batons (truncheons).
The Police Ombudsman is required under law to report on trends and patterns in complaints received by her Office.
This research project considered a total of 419 complaints about the use of batons made to the Police Ombudsman's Office between November 2000 and March 2002, and compared these statistics with figures from police forces in Cumbria, Dyfed-Powys, Gloucestershire, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire and West Yorkshire.
The Police Ombudsman, Mrs Nuala O'Loan, said the research highlighted the fact that officers here have to deal with a much greater level of street violence than do their counterparts in the other police services and are suffering a much higher level of assault:
"Police officers in Northern Ireland do a difficult job and they encounter public disorder situations that are considerably more violent and life-threatening than in other areas," she said.
As for the 40 times higher rate of complaints about baton use, Mrs O'Loan stressed that it was a research statistic and that these complaints represented allegations which had yet to be proven. However, she said the statistic did point to a worrying trend:
"Police officers here are armed, of course, and I can see circumstances where it would be right and proper for them to use their batons to prevent their firearms being seized, as this would put them and their assailant in increased danger.
Having said that, such incidents do not explain the much higher number of complaints about baton use observed in Northern Ireland. There does seem to be a problem," she said.
Most of the complaints about baton use made to the Police Ombudsman's Office arose out of arrests and involved incidents which took place on Saturdays or Sundays.
Mrs O'Loan expressed concern that 31% of complaints alleged blows to the neck or head, despite force instructions that blows to the head should be used in only extremely grave situations.
Based on the findings of the report, the Police Ombudsman has recommended that the Police Service of Northern Ireland should implement a series of measures to tackle the issues.
She has called for more resources to be allocated to train officers in how and when to use their batons properly:
"At the moment there are not enough trainers or facilities and there is no refresher training for experienced officers."
Mrs O'Loan said she is also concerned that although an officer is instructed to report each occasion they use a baton, there is no obligation on their Commander to keep these records:
"I believe such individual reports should be collected and analysed centrally. Such a process will provide a better picture of the situation for both the police and the public.
I think that by identifying problems in this way and making recommendations we can help improve policing, which I know is the aim of both the Police Service of Northern Ireland and of this office," she said.
A PDF version of the full research report is available here.