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Sara Thornton: 'Post-incident procedure must reflect support our officers deserve'

NPCC Chairman, writing exclusively for Police Oracle, says balance between full investigation and fair treatment of armed police officers must be found.
Published - 10/04/2017 By - Chief Constable Sara Thornton

Police officers who serve as part of firearms units are volunteering themselves for an immensely difficult and dangerous role that will put them in harm’s way.

While the rest of us take cover, armed officers rush into the face of danger. They deserve more than just our thanks and respect. To do their job, armed officers need our active support.

At Chief Constables Council which I chaired last week, we discussed current draft statutory guidance submitted by the IPCC for handling incidents when a weapon is discharged causing death or serious harm, all ‘key policing witnesses’ – including officers themselves – should be separated from one another. While we understand that in some circumstances this might be required, this will frequently be unnecessary.

DCC Simon Chesterman, our national firearms lead, has been working with the IPCC on these draft procedures.  He has publicly raised our concerns about the draft guidance on our behalf. He does so with my full support and the total confidence of all chief constables.

Post-incident procedures must strike a balance between robust investigation by independent bodies and fair treatment of officers involved. It is not necessary to always separate officers from their team during what is a traumatic experience.

Under existing College of Policing guidance, the officers are under constant supervision by an appointed senior officer and their sole purpose is to prevent any conferring. 

The IPCC also has the right to be present and observe all the post-incident procedures to verify their integrity. The Court of Appeal has recognised this guidance as providing reasonable safeguards against collusion.

I wrote to the Home Secretary about these concerns last year and cited a survey conducted by the Mayor of London’s Office for Policing and Crime in which 82 per cent of surveyed armed officers were not comfortable with these proposed changes. These changes could make it more difficult to recruit more volunteers to take up an armed role.

In this uncertain climate and severe risk level we need more trained armed police officers to tackle the threats we face. We intend to keep working with the IPCC and Government to find the right balance and ensure that our processes reflect the support that our officers deserve. 

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