Despite the importance of lethal force, relatively little is known internationally about how often it is used

A major new research project and website to monitor the use of lethal force by police officers around the world will help to promote accountability and the rule of law.

The project and website, Monitoring Lethal Force, will enhance understanding of the regulation, recording and relative incidence of uses of force by police and law enforcement organisations that result in or are connected with deaths. The work of the international team of experts will support debate, research and advocacy to improve policing practices.

Despite the importance of lethal force, relatively little is known internationally about how often it is used and the official policies and practices in place for recording and responding to deaths.  Existing monitoring efforts tend to focus on police killings in specific nations or cities, and usually do not allow for comparisons across jurisdictions, or to detect patterns or trends over time.

A new project website includes the national legal frameworks in place governing law enforcement agencies’ use of lethal force; the official policies and practices in place for recording and responding to deaths connected with police uses of force; and comparative indexes of use and abuse of lethal force.

Researchers around the globe have monitored policies and practices for recording and responding to deaths, developed relative evaluations of those practices, and established comparative indicators on the use and abuse of force.

Those using the website can compare data for different countries. Data is currently available for Australia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, England and Wales, France, Jamaica, Mexico, Netherlands, Philippines, Sierra Leone and Venezuela.

There are case studies on each country summarising current legal frameworks and policing organisations, with system-specific recommendations for improvement by the experts on the research team.

For England and Wales the research team has determined that, while there are elements of “relatively good practice” when considered internationally, more needs to be done. While an annual publication on Deaths During or Following Police Contact is produced by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, this would benefit from a more inclusive definition of police use of force or restraint as well as clearer disaggregation of deaths that have involved use of force, and a breakdown of such deaths by demographic characteristics, including ethnicity and gender. Further data also needs to be collected and published on deaths of police officers and staff, as well as non-fatal injuries that may occur to civilians and police officers and staff, in use of force incidents.  While improvements in data collection, analysis and publication are important, they will not be sufficient; it is crucial that lessons are learned from previous deaths and that recommendations from prior reports, including the Report of the Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody, sometimes referred to as the Angiolini Report, are implemented.

The research team have expertise in law, policing and security around the world. They include: Otto Adang, chair of public order management at the Police Academy of the Netherlands, and professor at the University of Groningen; Keymer Ávila, from the Institute of Criminal Sciences of the UCV; Ignacio Cano, from the University of Rio de Janeiro; Jasper De Paepe and Marleen Easton, from Ghent University; Abi Dymond, Stephen Skinner and Brian Rappert from the University of Exeter; Ross Hendy, from Monash University; Stuart Maslen, Dumisani Gandhi, Lily Oyakhirome, Thomas Probert and Beryl Orao, from the University of Pretoria; Paul Le Derff, from the University of Bordeaux; Catalina Pérez Correa, from the Law School of the National University (UNAM), Mexico, and Tarik Weekes, from the University of the West Indies.

Professor Abi Dymond, from the University of Exeter, said: “I hope this new Lethal Force Monitor website, a collaborative endeavour with colleagues worldwide, will be a useful resource, helping people from all over the world to strengthen their national work on this issue, make useful international comparisons and will ultimately assist in improving policies and practices around police use of lethal force, including increasing transparency, helping to prevent future deaths and enhancing accountability where deaths occur.  There is no time to waste and we urge states, law enforcement agencies and other relevant bodies to take these issues, and our recommendations, seriously and to adopt them without hesitation.”