The IOPC is investigating the tasering of a man and the shooting dead of his two dogs. What next?
The Metropolitan Police Service (“MPS”) has referred two complaints it received to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (“IOPC”) over an incident on 7 May 2023 in which its officers tasered a man and then shot dead his two dogs. The IOPC announced its intention to investigate the matter on 12 May 2023.
This shocking incident took place in the middle of the afternoon in a residential area of east London and was caught on camera.
Who are the IOPC?
The IOPC are often described as the police watchdog in England and Wales. It is a non-departmental public body that oversees the police complaints system.
What is the applicable law and guidance?
Without seeing any terms of reference or correspondence with the IOPC on this matter, it is not possible to say for sure what the IOPC will be investigating, but it is likely that it will be investigating both the tasering of the man and the shooting dead of his two dogs.
This process is part of the police complaints system, which is distinct from civil and criminal law mechanisms, although it does overlap with them. For example, during the course of its investigation, the IOPC will be investigating to see whether any MPS officers committed professional misconduct or criminal offences.
As part of its investigation, the IOPC should consider the lawfulness of the tasering and shootings. For the tasering, the IOPC will need to consider the lawfulness of the use of force as part of the man’s arrest. This assessment will be made by reference to statutory and common law powers of arrest, the PACE codes of practice and taser specific guidance. The footage circulated on social media does not show the man to be violent or pose a danger to the police officers, so the necessity and proportionality of the tasering will need to be explored.
For the shooting of the dogs, the IOPC will need to consider the lawfulness of the destruction of the dogs by reference to the applicable provisions contained in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and the Dogs Act 1871. The man who was tasered has since appeared at Thames magistrates court in Bow, where he denied being the owner of a dog that was dangerously out of control (with injury). He admitted being in possession/custody of a dog while disqualified from owning or keeping a dog.
The footage circulated on social media does not show the dogs being dangerously out of control or that they posed a risk to public safety. Questions therefore remain about the necessity and proportionality of shooting the dogs as opposed to seizing them and going through the court process.
It is likely that the relevant police officers will be interviewed as part of the IOPC investigation and they will provide their legal justifications for the actions they took. These justifications will need to be scrutinized independently.
All police officers are required to comply with the following standards of professional behaviour:
- Honesty and Integrity - Police officers must be honest, act with integrity and must not compromise or abuse their position.
- Authority, Respect and Courtesy - Police officers must act with self-control and tolerance, treating members of the public and colleagues with respect and courtesy. Police officers must not abuse their powers or authority and must respect the rights of all individuals.
- Equality and Diversity - Police officers must act with fairness and impartiality. They must not discriminate unlawfully or unfairly.
- Use of Force - Police officers must only use force to the extent that it is necessary, proportionate and reasonable in all the circumstances.
- Orders and Instructions - Police officers can only give and carry out lawful orders and instructions. Police officers must abide by police regulations, force policies and lawful orders.
- Duties and Responsibilities - Police officers must be diligent in the exercise of their duties and responsibilities.
- Confidentiality - Police officers must treat information with respect and access or disclose it only in the proper course of police duties.
- Fitness for Duty - Police officers when on duty or presenting themselves for duty must be fit to carry out their responsibilities.
- Discreditable conduct - Police officers must behave in a manner which does not discredit the police service or undermine public confidence in it, whether on or off duty. Police officers must report any action taken against them for a criminal offence, any conditions imposed on them by a court or the receipt of any penalty notice.
- Challenging and Reporting Improper Conduct - Police officers must report, challenge or take action against the conduct of colleagues which has fallen below the Standards of Professional Behaviour.
Any failure of an officer to meet these standards can lead to a finding of misconduct or gross misconduct and result in disciplinary action against the officer/s involved. The reporting and investigation of such failures may also identify areas of organisational learning or training gaps which can then be addressed by the force.
What could the outcome of the investigation be?
At the conclusion of their investigation the IOPC should produce a report detailing the findings of their investigation and confirming whether there is a case to answer for misconduct, gross misconduct or unsatisfactory performance. They will then make recommendations as to how to address the issues identified.
Where misconduct or gross misconduct is found there should be a misconduct meeting or hearing which can result in a warning, disciplinary action or even dismissal depending on the seriousness of the case. However, sometimes the appropriate authority may only impose management advice or training, or they may decide that no action is required at all.
Where the IOPC consider that an officer has committed a criminal offence, they can make a referral to the Crown Prosecution Service.
It is important to bear in mind that the complaints process will not result in an award of compensation. For compensation, the man would need to pursue a civil claim against the police. It is not necessary to make a complaint before pursuing a civil claim but the complaint investigation may unearth valuable evidence in support of a potential civil claim.
This incident has understandably generated public condemnation and concern. The actions of MPS officers in this case come amid the backdrop of an intensified scrutiny of an organisation that has been found by the Casey Review to be institutionally racist, homophobic and misogynist and by the Daniel Morgan Inquiry to be institutionally corrupt. It also comes at a time where the police have controversially been granted more powers under the Policing, Crime Sentencing and Courts Act and Public Order Act.
This case brings back into focus the MPS’ use of tasers, which has been and remains the focus of important campaigns from organisations like Stopwatch, Unjust and INQUEST, among others.
This case also once again highlights the manner in which companion animals are viewed as “property” in English Law, devoid of full legal rights. This is a developing area of “Animal Law” that has been and will continue to be the subject of challenge and gradual change around the globe.