StopWatch has long called for the police to investigate the prevalence of handcuffing as a use of force tactic open to abuse during stop and search encounters. While we welcome the consideration that the College of Policing has given to revising the guidance for handcuff use, we fear that in practice, officers will ignore the updated APP too often to make a positive difference, just as they ignored the original. The initial guidance suggested that handcuff use ‘be necessary, reasonable and proportionate with handcuffs not being used routinely…’ Yet, a recent report from HM Inspector of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services on stop and search and the use of force claimed to have ‘received anecdotal evidence that the use of handcuffs during stop and search encounters is becoming routine in some forces’ (HMICFRS, 2021, p.5).
Our issues with the draft APP proposed are twofold:
Firstly, the HMICFRS report identified improper recording of handcuffing during stop and searches 3 years after the introduction of a national recording requirement in 2017. This led the report's authors to suggest that 'current data is insufficiently robust due to the likelihood of high levels of under-recording' (HMICFRS, p.12). However, beyond a mention of how essential ‘appropriate recording’ is to the process, the draft proposal fails to offer a fuller explanation of how use of force data ought to be recorded, or on supervisory involvement in monitoring and managing the recording process. If supervisors continue to be left in the dark about their officers' use of handcuffs during searches, it will leave them (and other scrutiny bodies) 'less able to demonstrate to the public that their use of handcuffing is fair and appropriate, and less able to improve it by tackling potentially unfair or inappropriate handcuffing at an individual or organisational level' (HMICFRS, p.23).
Secondly, there is no mention of how supervisors and scrutiny bodies might sanction officers who breach the guidance. It is imperative for public safety to ensure that those who are found to have misapplied handcuffs can be subject to disciplinary action, in addition to the guidance-based training they will inevitably receive. We think well-designed regulatory misconduct systems should include ‘an escalating response, providing feedback and professional development opportunities for officers before advancing to disciplinary measures in the event that officers fail to correct their behaviour’. Northamptonshire police’s Reasonable Grounds Panel (RGP) is one example of an effective procedural system that comprises the prospect of disciplinary action for officers ‘whose conduct is found wanting’ in the eyes of the public they serve (Open Society evaluation of RGP, page 10). Considering how handcuffs are by far the most regularly employed use of force tactic among officers, we believe it is necessary to include sanctions as a measure of accountability for unlawful uses of force.