Policing can, by its very nature, be a dangerous occupation.
Criminals can be prepared to use violence to try to evade capture and officers can find themselves in a range of risky situations where violence is used against them.
What we seem to have seen increasingly in recent years are incidents where people, usually at the point they are being detained for offences or transported to custody suites, decide to fight, lash out, bite or even spit in officers’ faces.
This is completely unacceptable and there can never be an excuse for such behaviour. While officers recognise that the challenges of keeping our communities safe from those who break the law can be a difficult one, violence against officers or police staff members such as PCSO colleagues for instance, should never be considered just part of the job.
Remember these officers are people who you may know, might be your friends, your family members or almost certainly live and serve in your communities trying to keep you safe. These assaults cause a significant personal impact to the officers and in the more serious cases it often results in the officer being unable to work whilst they recover. This in itself then impacts on our ability keep you safe with the reduced resources we already have.
I myself can recall numerous incidents where I have been assaulted, the most serious a few years ago now by a man with mental health issues who had armed himself with an axe. Whilst making the arrest I sustained injuries - so I do know how it feels.
As police commander for Leeds I see reports on an almost daily basis of officers being struck with weapons, kicked, punched and spat at in the course of their duties. We take a proactive approach to tackling the issue and work closely with the Police Federation. We have much more effective support processes in place these days to make sure the welfare and wellbeing of those individual officers who are attacked is always our first priority.
We want our people to know that we don’t consider it just an occupational hazard or an accepted consequence of their role and that when it does happen we need to consider the impact on them. We always aim to treat them as victims of crime and ensure that those who commit violent offences against them are dealt with appropriately through the criminal justice process.
West Yorkshire Police was the first force to have developed a Chief Constable endorsed impact statement which can be shared with the courts. It highlights the gravity of these attacks and aims to reduce and prevent them.
The roll-out of body worn cameras to every officer in force has also given an added protection. The presence of the camera reduces the likelihood of violence and also captures clear high-quality evidence when assaults do occur.
Sadly, it’s not just police officers that are subjected to violence during their work. Other emergency workers, including those in the fire and ambulance services, have also been targets for people’s unnecessary aggression.
That’s why we have joined forces with our colleagues in those services to support the ‘Protect the Protectors’ bill which has its third reading in the House of Commons this week (April 27)
This proposed legislation makes the case for a specific offence of assaulting emergency service workers and for harsher penalties for those who do, which should act as a deterrent and give better protection to police officers and other blue light services.
The Force is calling on our MPs and the public to give this bill their support. It is absolutely vital that those who put themselves in harm’s way on a daily basis to keep others safe are afforded the full protection of the law. I think every right minded resident of Leeds would agree with that sentiment.