Police officers are leaving the service or are unable to work due to the physical and mental consequences of being assaulted, and judges and magistrates need to do more to deter offenders, Gloucestershire Police Federation’s Chairman has said.
There has been a rise in assaults against police officers during the pandemic, especially Covid-related assaults such as spitting and coughing at officers. At the same time officers around the country have been a target of violence during recent protests.
30,679 police officers were assaulted in England and Wales last year. That’s 590 a week. 84 a day. 119 Gloucestershire Police officers were assaulted last year.
Federation Chairman Steve James said: “We see officers leaving the service due to injury and due to mental health trauma as a result of these injuries. In some cases we lose hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of officer man hours every year due to injuries on duty and people being off duty and recuperating.
“There is a cost to all this, both financially and socially, and most importantly personally to the officer. I think that needs to be at the forefront of judges’ and magistrates’ minds, not necessarily the effect on the defendant.”
Steve said there had been “a lot of cases of people weaponising coronavirus against police” and that some of the enforcement officers had to do during lockdown created confrontation. He said: “There’s never any excuse for assaulting police officers, but it has perhaps driven those interactions where those become more likely.”
But Steve added that there had been some “good sentencing” around coronavirus, with the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act increasing jail sentences from six to 12 months, and the Government discussing increasing them further to two years.
Steve said: “Obviously we welcome that, because 12 months doesn’t always reflect the severity of the assault. But also that sentencing should be that specific offence about assaulting an emergency worker and that should be reflected in a higher sentence where circumstances are appropriate.
“We’d like to see those sentencing powers beefed up, but more importantly we’d also like to see that reflected in the sentencing guidelines to court. It’s all very well having a year or two years, five years, 10 years, but unless the courts are actually delivering those sentences where appropriate then you may as well leave it at six months. And that will only be reflected if the sentencing guidelines are changed to allow magistrates and judges to sentence accordingly.”
Steve also mentioned the police assaults that had occurred during the recent Black Lives Matter protests and counter-protests, but stressed that Gloucestershire protests had been peaceful.
He said: “We’ve had a number of small protests but nothing that has involved any disorder or any violence. We’ve had a police presence at the majority of those, but everything has passed peacefully. Actually the relationship between local communities has been very good and it’s been quite a useful method for the police to be out engaging with those people protesting and being able to share their side of what’s going on.”