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Use of force oversight still a concern in Cumbria says HMIC

HMICFRS found that while there has been an overall improvement in the force's custody services since 2015, its governance of use of force 'isn’t good enough' and hasn't really improved.

Cumbria Constabulary has been asked to implement processes which properly scrutinise its use of force in custody after HMICFRS concluded it can't currently show that such use is always necessary, justified and proportionate.

The inspectorate recommended that this scrutiny be based on accurate information and robust quality assurance, which it found to be lacking because incidents aren't always properly recorded on custody records, nor are use-of-force forms always completed in line with NPCC guidance.

Inspectors also found the management of incidents to be a problem.

Significantly, and in contrast with the wider picture, little improvement has been made in this area since HMICFRS' 2015 inspection.

While use of force was found to be proportionate in most of the 28 cases reviewed, and there were instances of good de-escalation which avoided the need for such use, incident management was a problem.

Adjudging that custody officers 'didn’t always oversee and direct the use of force well enough', inspectors found that restraint issues weren't always deployed correctly and that handcuffs weren't always removed quickly enough for compliant detainees.

HMICFRS also identified issues when force was used to remove a detainee's clothes, specifically that it wasn't always clear - from the custody record or CCTV - whether removal was necessary and justified. Also, detainee dignity wasn't always maintained.

Although designated sergeants review a sample of incidents, they only review those where a use of force form has been submitted which limits the sample. 

HMICFRS concluded that Cumbria's attempt at quality assurance 'hasn’t identified some of the concerns we are raising'.

Six cases were referred to the force for learning, five of which related to the use of techniques which the inspectorate felt could have resulted in injury.

A spokesperson from the force said: "HMICFRS have identified that Cumbria Constabulary has improved its custody provision since the last inspection and highlights the good oversight arrangements in place for the safe and respectful provision of custody.

“The constabulary also acknowledges that some of the processes in recording information can be improved, including those relating to the use of force. Our priority in custody is to ensure the safety and welfare of detainees.

“Following the inspection in January we have already started to address the areas highlighted for improvement and welcome these recommendation to help us to continue to improve our custody provision.

"We have already amended our recording process for use of force to drive consistency and enhanced our existing quality assurance processes in recognition of this feedback."

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