27 February 2019

Getting involved: A personal perspective on helping to shape the conflict management guidelines

Dr Abi Dymond tells us about her experience as an academic on the conflict management guidelines committee and how she is using her expertise to improve use of force reporting

Abi Dymond is an ESRC funded researcher at the University of Exeter with a particular interest in police use of Taser in England and Wales, officer safety training and use of force reporting.

How did you become involved in the conflict management guideline committee?

I was invited to be part of the committee because of my expertise in use of force reporting.  I have previously been on the Programme Board for the review of Police Use of Force Reporting in England and Wales.  I'm also interested in evidence-based policing more broadly.  I believe it's important that academics apply their research practically, where possible, to contribute to the development of evidence-based, consultative, human-rights compliant policing guidelines.

What is the role of the committee in the conflict management work?

The guideline committee for the conflict management work, which started in 2016, had two key aims.  The first of these was to develop guidelines to help officers manage violence and aggression during routine incidents and planned operations in the community (i.e. to handle situations without using force wherever possible).

The second aim was to pilot a new approach to developing police guidance. The College's goal was to ensure that all new national policing guidance was:

  • based on the best-available evidence of what works
  • developed by independent and unbiased committees of experts
  • subject to stakeholder consultation allowing those affected by the guideline to comment
  • quality assured to ensure the process has been followed and recommendations are supported by evidence. 

What was involved?

Members of the committee, which included frontline officers, officer safety trainers, response officers and representatives from the Self-Defence and Restraint Group (SDRG) were invited to bring their own individual perspective to the group, and were not representing their organisations.  We were asked to consider the evidence on de-escalation and resolving conflict without using force and to write draft guidelines informed by this evidence as a committee. 

On a practical, day to day level, this involved attending a variety of meetings with other committee members and reviewing the summaries of evidence provided by the College.  The next steps included discussing the strengths, weaknesses and applicability of the evidence and then contributing to the content of the guidelines. 

For me, it was a really exciting opportunity to try and draft policy based on the best- available evidence – although this was not without its challenges! For example, we quickly found that, some promising areas of work aside,  there was a lack of relevant policing research that had been conducted on how best to de-escalate potentially violent, volatile situations without using force, and little on the effectiveness of different training approaches.  As such, a lot of the evidence that we were using had been drawn from other contexts, such as healthcare.

Another challenge with applying the research to day to day policing was around the strength of the recommendations that the committee was able to make; given the context of policing in England and Wales, the role of the College of Policing and the operational independence of Chief Constables.

For me, however, these discussions were a real strength of the committee work – it was great to have a process involving academics from a range of disciplines, College staff and police officers at all levels with different sources of expertise.  It was good to have open and robust discussions, where people were able to disagree and challenge some of the points raised in a constructive way.  Having these different sources of expertise and this level of debate strengthened the draft guidelines. 

Why is the use of force such an important topic?

From my perspective, this was a useful initiative for several reasons.  First, it is important that policy and guidelines are informed by evidence of different types, including but not limited to systematic reviews.  It was great to see the College developing ways to do this systematically in their work. Second, and of equal importance, is the move towards making policy decisions and writing guidelines  in this way where consultation occurs, discussions happens and transparency is increased.  For all these reasons, although there is some work still to do, this pilot seemed like a definite step forward.  

Third, this topic is particularly important to me, as I was surprised to find during my PhD research the relatively small amount of time that some forces dedicate to annual officer safety training (with some forces providing their officers with 8 hours or less per annum).  It seems to me crucial that officers are given the training they need in terms of how to use the various force options they have, where this is necessary, to ensure they have a range of techniques to help them to avoid using force in situations where possible. I hope the guidelines will help contribute towards this and raise awareness of the importance of officer safety training and the need to devote sufficient time to it. 

What's next for you?

I will be working with the College of Policing, University College London and others to analyse the first years' worth of data collected under the use of force reporting review – an exciting piece of work.  As part of this we will be looking at topics closely aligned with the conflict management work, including factors associated with injuries to officers and members of the public the use of different force options and the impact of officer safety training on these trends.  I hope this will supplement the analysis that forces will be doing locally, contribute to public and police officer safety and support with the conflict management work.

If you would like to contact Abi directly about her work, please email her on A.Dymond@exeter.ac.uk 


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