Public frustration and anger with Coronavirus lockdowns have contributed to an ugly and unacceptable surge in police officers being assaulted, the head of Gloucestershire Police Federation has said.
More than 155 Gloucestershire Police officers have so far been assaulted in 2020.
Gloucestershire Police Federation says officers have been racially abused, bitten, spat on, punched, kicked, head-butted and even driven at.
Twenty officers have been assaulted in the past month alone with young in service frontline officers taking the brunt.
To put the figure in context, around 119 officers were assaulted across the whole of the 2019/20 financial year.
Gloucestershire Police Federation Chair Steve James says COVID, having to police lockdowns and curb people’s liberties have accelerated the issue, and he fears the picture could be even worse than the figures show.
“The figure is likely to be higher due to under-reporting, and a lot of officers will try and shrug it off and get on with the job,” he said.
“But the long-term effect is cumulative and can be devastating to officer health.
“I do not doubt that COVID and the nature of the lockdown restrictions have played a big part. As an element of policing, it has brought us in conflict with people more than we would generally be.
“The people who flagrantly breach COVID regulations are more likely to be anti-authority, often they are happy to come into conflict with the police.”
Steve’s also concerned by ongoing anti-police rhetoric, fuelled by people posting videos and clips of officers making arrests and stops online often out of context to deliberately depict them in a bad light.
It’s this anti-police feeling which can lead people thinking it’s okay to assault an officer he said.
“Many of these videos are quite inflammatory and almost always out of context… I don’t have a problem with people filming officers doing their duty; we’re accountable after all.
“But when they are filming an officer on his own being assaulted rather than offering assistance it’s a different matter, there is something wrong with people’s values, not to mention there is an offence of failing to come to the assistance of a constable when requested.
“Perhaps we need a few convictions for that and see what happens then.”
While cases are still being underreported matters have improved, and Steve says he hopes officers will be empowered to come forward and talk about what happens out on the frontline.
He added: “There are a certain number of officers who don’t report – officers will take a certain amount of abuse and our tolerance is generally high, but I think that’s changing particularly with new recruits.
“We need officers to come forward, and we need to try and actively measure and understand under-reporting.”
Officers would rather be punched than spat at, Steve added, which has made the past few months of lockdown particularly harrowing.
“By and large, the courts have been supportive, and we’ve seen custodial sentences handed down for COVID related assaults. An officer was spat at recently, and the perpetrator got a nine-week sentence, for example,” Steve said.
“Hopefully this will continue and the Government’s Protect the Protectors legislation [Assault on Emergency Services Workers Act] will hopefully be amended to provide 24 months sentences for those who assault us and our colleagues in red and green.
“These assaults are not putting people off from joining the police thankfully, but they don’t put this list of assaults on the job adverts, do they?
“Generally we’re hitting our numbers, but it’s all very well getting them in the door, we need officers to stay.”
Steve remains committed to getting a Taser on the PPE belt for every Gloucestershire officer who wants it.
“That’s our position, and it’s a deterrent to assaults,” he said.
“The vast majority of Taser deployments are just drawing it or red dotting someone, without it being fired. The very fact that that it’ there is a deterrent.
“There are no simple answers to combatting assaults, but there are some simple steps we could take; I’m an optimist still, the vast majority of people are decent, but there is a minority out there who clearly think it’s okay to assault an officer.
“It is most definitely not in a day’s work for our colleagues – and we need strong deterrents and appropriate punishments.”