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Preventing deaths on arrest and in police custody

A new report brings together, for the first time, a wide range of policing practice across England and Wales

A new publication issued last week by the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody (IAPDC) says that Police forces, Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), and health partners must improve practice to prevent deaths at the point of arrest, during, and after custody.

The report has perhaps the longest formal title of any report in 2022: “Preventing deaths at point of arrest, during and after police custody: a review of police practice submitted to the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody by Police and Crime Commissioners and associated bodies”. It brings together, for the first time, a wide range of policing practice across England and Wales to prevent deaths and makes a series of recommendations for police, healthcare, and other bodies.


The IADPC explicitly places the report in the context of a renewed emphasis on getting the basics of policing right. The organisation draws attention to the fact that the majority of police time is spent on incidents unrelated to criminality, with data from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary & Fire Rescue Services (HMICFRS) suggesting that in 2016/17 only 24% of the incidents to which forces responded related to crime. Reducing crime and building public confidence are at the top of the police agenda. The IADPC argues that keeping people safe garners public trust. It says that many forces have forged partnerships with allied health and justice services to play to professional strengths and sets out how partnership working can reduce inappropriate use of police time and serve to prevent deaths in custody.

The number of deaths during and following police custody has remained at similar levels for the last decade, while deaths within custody itself have fallen. There were 11 deaths in or following police custody in 2021/22, a decrease of 8 from the previous year, as well as 56 apparent suicides following release from police custody, one more than the previous year. In 2021/22, three people died in a police cell, a continuation of a long-term reduction since the 1990s from earlier years.

A high proportion of deaths that occur in police custody, during or following police contact, involve people who are experiencing mental health and and/or substance misuse issues. In 2021/22, 6 of the 11 people who died were identified as having mental health conditions and 9 people were known to have links to alcohol and/or drugs. Both factors are also prevalent among the 109 people who died in 2021/22 after some form of contact with the police. It is important to note that the category of ‘other deaths following police contact’ includes concerning examples of police contact deaths but whose classification remain opaque, as do what themes and learning are drawn from it.

The report 

The report highlights the fact that police practice in this area is not uniform across England and Wales, with limited evidence that forces are sharing findings after a death or involving bereaved families in driving change. More should be done to ensure practice is evaluated and shared, and there should be greater focus on ensuring health partners are first-responders to those in mental health crisis, not police. There remains a concerning number of apparent suicides following release, consistently greater than the number of deaths within custody itself. Despite this, there is limited evidence of police and healthcare partnerships to provide effective aftercare for people vulnerable after release.


The report’s recommendations and considerations for forces, departments and partners focus on three key areas: mental health and risk, reducing apparent post-custody suicides and embedding learning.

The report notes that there has been progress in many areas, although markedly less so in terms of the disproportional use of force against Black and other minority communities. It concludes by highlighting the leadership role for Police and Crime Commissioners around this issue.

Readers interested in the detailed recommendations can find the full report here.

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