Hello, I’m Emma. I have been awarded a Churchill Fellowship for 2020 to visit Canada to research support for bereaved families following police-related deaths.

Police-related deaths can be defined as road traffic fatalities following police pursuits, fatal police shootings, deaths in or following police custody and other deaths following contact with the police, either directly or indirectly, that cause serious concern for the public, communities and the police.

When someone dies during or following contact with the police, families are faced with a complex, traumatic and bewildering experience. The legal processes involved in discovering the truth about the circumstances of a death, which are in an overwhelmingly uneven playing field, exacerbate the feelings of grief, shock and distress. This has a negative effect on relationships, finances and mental and physical health.

There is an evident paucity of research surrounding support for bereaved families following police-related deaths. In my previous role as an Investigator at the IOPC, I witnessed the trauma faced by families in such circumstances and felt compelled to create positive change.

In the UK, an average of 218 police-related deaths are independently investigated each year by the three police oversight bodies (Independent Office for Police Conduct – IOPC, Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland – PONI and Police Investigations and Review Commissioner – PIRC). A total of 92% of independent investigations following police-related deaths are conducted by the IOPC.

Following a police-related death, the police oversight body often takes precedence over the police force in the role of supporting bereaved families. Although current models of support have not been evaluated, feedback gathered by the charity INQUEST suggests much improvement is needed.

In Canada, there are innovative models of support offered in such circumstances. Their police oversight bodies are structured similarly to the UK, operating independently from the police, with their own powers and employing staff from both policing and non-policing backgrounds.

Examples of innovative support practices utilised in Canada following a police-related death include;
– Immediate intervention, emotional support and practical assistance
– Referrals to weekly peer support groups, bereavement helplines and community agencies to ensure short and long term support
– Direct support focused on coping skills
– Formation of a community liaison group within the police oversight body encompassing people from diverse backgrounds in order to deploy the most effective liaison to the family (language skills, knowledge of funeral rituals etc.)
– Referrals to quick response funds for immediate support (e.g. counselling)

Upon my return from Canada, I will write a report detailing my findings, results and recommendations and the planned next steps for the project. A Churchill Fellowship is for life and the impact I will make after my travels is crucial. For this reason, I will be able to apply for additional post-travel funding to put my ideas into action and make change happen.

My research will initiate a national discussion about how police oversight bodies in the UK can work together to share learning and work to the best possible support standard for bereaved families following police-related deaths. I feel incredibly honoured to have been awarded this opportunity to create positive change, and most importantly, to give bereaved families a voice.

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