Metropolitan Police officers will be expected to ‘ask themselves’ 44 questions before deciding on whether or not to put a potentially violent or non-compliant person in cuffs.
Generally speaking, a police officer will not place someone in handcuffs unless they have acted in a way that is likely to be interpreted by the officer as aggressive or violent, or if the officer speaking to the detained person believes that the person being spoken to might have weapons or might try to flee from the police.
The guidance was laid out in a 25-page document that the UK’s largest police force has published in response to complaints from individuals who have been placed in cuffs.
The policy follows a review commissioned by Met Commissioner Cressida Dick in 2019 into the use of handcuffs before an arrest has taken place.
Police officers will be expected to ponder the 44 questions in likely fast-moving and dynamic situations where officers and members of the public could potentially be put at risk by individuals who officers have detained.
The guidance comes at a time when police officers and emergency workers, in general, have faced an increase in violent attacks, as outlined in the ‘Assaulted on Duty’ section of our website.
Amongst the 44 questions are:
‘What would the victim or community affected expect of me in this situation?’ and ‘Is this a situation for the police alone to deal with?’ as well as ‘If decision makers have to account for their decisions, will they be able to say they were proportionate, legitimate, necessary and ethical?’
When officers are put in a situation where handcuffs might be necessary, they often only have seconds to decide whether or not to put someone in cuffs.
Typically, the decision is usually made to place a detained person in handcuffs when the individual detained becomes aggressive, non-compliant, threatening, hostile or if there is intelligence that the person being spoken to might have weapons on them.
It is not clear how Met bosses expect their officers to reflect on the 44 questions when first speaking to an individual who has been stopped as part of the officer’s investigations or as part of their general patrol duties.
There is a fear amongst police officers that this new guidance could put the safety of police officers and members of the public at risk owing to the time it will take to ponder the 44 questions when dealing with members of the public who are initially calm and compliant but who then become hostile and aggressive.
Most of the 44 questions are from the College of Policing’s National Decision Model but are now enshrined in the official equipment policy.
The complete list of questions officers are being told to consider before putting someone in cuffs are as follows:
1. Is what I am considering consistent with the Code of Ethics?
2. What would the victim or community affected expect of me in this situation?
3. What does the police service expect of me in this situation?
4. Is this action or decision likely to reflect positively on my professionalism and policing generally?
5. Could I explain my action or decision in public?
6. What is happening?
7. What do I know so far?
8. What do I not know?
9. What further information (or intelligence) do I want/need at this moment?
10. Do I need to take action immediately?
11. Do I need to seek more information?
12. What could go wrong (and what could go well)?
13. What is causing the situation?
14. How probable is the risk of harm?
15. How serious would it be?
16. Is that level of risk acceptable?
17. Is this a situation for the police alone to deal with?
18. Am I the appropriate person to deal with this?
19. What am I trying to achieve?
20. Will my action resolve the situation?
21. What police powers might be required?
22. Is there any national guidance covering this type of situation?
23. Do any local organisational policies or guidelines apply?
24. What legislation might apply?
25. Is there any research evidence?
26. If decision makers have to account for their decisions, will they be able to say they were proportionate, legitimate, necessary and ethical?
27. Reasonable in the circumstances facing them at the time?
28. Does anyone else need to know what you have decided?
29. What happened as a result of your decision?
30. Was it what you wanted or expected to happen?
31. How were the principles and standards of professional behaviour demonstrated during the situation?
32. What information or intelligence was available?
33. What factors (potential benefits and harms) were assessed?
34. What threat and risk assessment methods were used (if any)?
35. Was a working strategy developed and was it appropriate?
36. Were there any powers, policies and legislation that should have been considered?
37. If policy was not followed, was this reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances?
38. How were feasible options identified and assessed?
39. Were decisions proportionate, legitimate, necessary and ethical?
40. Were decisions reasonable in the circumstances facing the decision maker?
41. Were decisions communicated effectively?
42. Were decisions and the rationale for them recorded as appropriate?
43. Were decisions monitored and reassessed where necessary?
44. What lessons can be learnt from the outcomes and how the decisions were made?
Speaking about the report, former police officer, policing analyst and author, Graham Wettone, told Emergency Services News:
“The policy quotes the existing national decision model & conflict resolution model which in my view is sufficient to justify an individual officers decision to use handcuffs.
“Every officer already knows handcuffing is a use of force & MUST be justified & documented.
“Increasing the decision making by considering additional questions will cause some officers to avoid handcuffing & potentially put themselves & colleagues at risk of harm.
“I would have preferred the policy to emphasise the existing guidelines & decision-making models without adding to them with more considerations.
“Some of the 44 points seem to suggest the officer has to predict the opinions & mindset of the community & watching public.
“It really is very simple – do not pose a risk to police officers and you will not be handcuffed – officers are already cautious about handcuffing because of the likely criticism, receiving a complaint & having to complete lengthy documentation to fully explain their rationale.
“Are they now going to be criticised & subject to discipline for not applying the policy of the 44 questions? Will they have to document their response to those questions every time they handcuff? Failing to follow policy could lead to discipline procedures.”
Commissioner Cressida Dick said:
“My number one priority remains tackling violent crime and keeping people safe from street crime – which is blighting the lives of too many young people.
“Alongside that, I have set out to increase the trust and confidence of communities in their police service. We know that not all communities have the same level of trust in us – I am determined to change that.
“The handcuffing review could not have taken place effectively without the input and contribution of many front line police officers and members of the public. I thank them all for their time, effort and valuable honesty.”
A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said:
‘The launch of the policy, which covers all aspects of the use of handcuffs, is the final recommendation from the 2020 review to be implemented.
‘Officers are already receiving additional legal training, more public and personal safety training, with further emphasis on de-escalation; and more community input to understand the respective experiences of the public and police officers during encounters on the streets of London’.
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