Road deaths involving police vehicles highest for a decade

The number of people killed in road traffic collisions involving police vehicles has risen by 45 per cent in the past year and is now at its highest level for a decade.

Sep 6, 2019
By Tony Thompson

Figures from the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) show 42 people died in traffic incidents involving the police in England and Wales. Thirty of the deaths occurred during police pursuits and five while officers were responding to emergency calls.

Of the 30 pursuit-related deaths, 12 involved the drivers of vehicles that were being pursued. Eight of those killed were passengers in the car being pursued. Seven of the deaths were of drivers or passengers in car that were struck by the vehicle the police were pursuing. In three cases, pedestrians were struck and killed by vehicles fleeing the police.

A further four people were killed when they were struck by police vehicles responding to an emergency call, while another death occurred when an unmarked police car responding to an emergency call collided with another vehicle.

Twenty-seven of the fatalities were men and 15 were women, with 22 of those killed aged 18 to 30, with eight aged over 60.

The oldest victim of a road traffic incident involving police was a 93-year-old woman pedestrian, who appeared to fall in the road in “very close proximity” to a force van on general patrol.

IOPC Director-General Michael Lockwood said the increase in pursuit-related deaths pointed to “a continued need for ongoing scrutiny of this area of policing”.

He added: “Police drivers need to be able to pursue suspects and respond quickly to emergency calls as part of their duty, but it’s not without risk. This includes risks not only for the police and the driver of any pursued vehicle, but for passengers, bystanders and other road users.

“Pursued drivers bear responsibility for their own actions but police officers should also take into account risks to the public and only undertake a pursuit where it is safe to do so, and where authorised.”

The IOPC investigation examined the deaths of 276 people in total – down from 288 the previous year. Of these, 16 people died in or following police custody last year, down from a ten-year high of 23 in 2017/18. Ten were identified as having mental health concerns and 13 were known to have a link to alcohol or drugs. Six had force used against them either by officers or members of the public before their deaths. There were 63 apparent suicides following police custody, up six from the previous year.

Three people were fatally shot by police, including one man who was unarmed and trying to flee a police raid on a property where no guns were found.

A total of 152 people died in other incidents involving police contact during 2018/19 – down from 175 the previous year.

“This year we’ve seen a reduction in the number of deaths in or following police custody, with no deaths occurring in a police custody suite itself,” said Mr Lockwood. “This reflects the importance of ongoing work, to which we have contributed, to ensure police custody offers as safe an environment as possible.

“However, it is of concern that, again, there is a high proportion of people dying during and immediately after custody who are vulnerable through mental health and links to drugs and alcohol.”

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