Why we must '˜get tougher' on those who attack our emergency service workers
THE GOVERNMENT has been urged to ensure harsher punishments for attacks on emergency service workers become law after a YEP investigation revealed thousands of assaults on police officers, firefighters and frontline NHS staff across West Yorkshire in just two years.
Data uncovered by this newspaper shows police officers rammed by cars, headbutted and scalded; firefighters subjected to racial abuse, missiles and fireworks; and an ambulance technician sexually assaulted in the back of her vehicle - all while trying to help the public.
The harrowing incidents are revealed just weeks before MPs will vote on a new bill, spearheaded by Halifax MP Holly Lynch, that will introduce harsher punishments on those who abuse emergency workers.
The Assaults on Emergency Service Workers Bill, inspired by Ms Lynch’s Protect the Protectors campaign, will give judges greater powers to inflict longer custodial sentences in the hope that the guidelines will act as a deterrent.
Figures revealed under the Freedom of Information Act show that in West Yorkshire in 2016 and 2017, there were 2,061 attacks on police officers and 208 instances of abuse on firefighters.
There were 1,629 attacks on Yorkshire Ambulance Service staff across the whole of Yorkshire over the two-year period; and last year alone saw 251 incidents at Leeds Teaching Hospitals and 154 at Mid Yorkshire, which runs hospitals in Wakefield, Pontefract and Dewsbury.
Ms Lynch said the statistics made her “more determined than ever to see this law go through”.
The region’s Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson said the Government must make time to ensure this bill goes through.
“It’s sad that we are having to do this, but it has reached a point where it needs to be done,” he said.
Nick Smart, chairman of West Yorkshire Police Federation, which has campaigned in support of the bill, said: “It’s no longer a question of if, but when, we will see a fatality.”
A Government spokesman said assaults on emergency workers were “unacceptable”, and that the increase in penalties through the bill would “send a clear message that these attacks will not be tolerated.”
* The Assaults on Emergency Workers Bill creates a statutory aggravating factor, which means that when a person is convicted of an assault, the judge must consider the fact it was committed against an emergency worker as an aggravating factor meriting an increase in the sentence within the maximum allowed for the particular offence.
* It will cover assaults and related offences including: common assault, ABH, GBH, and manslaughter.
* The maximum allowed for common assault will be increased from six months to 12 months.
* To be considered under these provisions, the offence must be committed against the emergency worker in the exercise of their duties.
* The Bill will cover emergency workers, this includes police, prison officers, custody officers, fire service personnel, search and rescue services and certain healthcare workers including ambulance personnel.
Police in West Yorkshire now wear body cameras which can be used to gather evidence during a violent situation.
West Yorkshire Police’s Deputy Chief Constable John Robins said the force had also introduced spit and bite guards and had annual training on physical and verbal techniques that could be used to diffuse a violent situation.
But despite preventative measures, attacks continue, and Mr Robins said so far this year his officers had been driven at, racially abused, and one even received a 3cm gash beneath his eye after he was hit by a 2ft long metal crowbar.
The force has also worked with unions, victims charities and MIND on “an array” of support they provide to officers.
He said: “At the end of the day, they step forward when others step away and it’s a difficult job.
“The most frustrating part for officers is the totally unnecessary abuse - when they are being spat at, punched and kicked, and the effects it has on them and their families. All of them have children, families, and partners, who they need to go home to and explain what has happened to them at work. For them, it can be devastating.”
In 2016 and 2017 there were:
2,061 - Attacks on police officers in West Yorkshire
208 - Attacks on firefighters- seven with weapons
1,629 - Attacks on Yorkshire Ambulance Service staff
251 - Incidents at Leeds Teaching Hospitals
154 - Incidents at Mid Yorkshire hospitals