The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has come under scrutiny for its protest restrictions – but much of its legislation is important for protecting the public as well as police officers.
Gloucestershire Police Federation Chairman Steve James said: “It’s a wide, broadly encompassing piece of legislation, but there’s some stuff in there that’s really important for protecting the public and is really important for our members. Obviously there is some concern over the elements on restrictions of protests, but there are some elements to that bill that have nothing to do with protests.”
The Bill proposes greater protection for police drivers, as well as increasing the maximum sentence for assaulting an emergency worker from one to two years.
These measures were positive, Steve said: “For years the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) has been lobbying for the law to recognise the enhanced skills and training and experience that police drivers have. At the moment they’re held to the same standard of driving as Joe Public, who’s passed the driving test.
“But officers will undertake weeks, and in some case months, of enhanced driving training that gives them skills that in many cases go beyond the standards we would expect of normal drivers. We’re asking these officers to respond as soon as they can to potential matters of life or death, and sometimes that will involve driving in a manner we wouldn’t encourage the public to do, and potentially taking greater risks to do so. As that’s reflected in the training, it’s only right that we offer those officers that protection.”
Steve also welcomed longer sentences for assaults on police and other emergency workers, saying: “It’s great. The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act increased the maximum sentence for assaults on officers from six months to a year. This Bill goes further than that and increases that maximum sentence to two years.”
The Bill includes the creation of a Police Covenant, following extensive campaigning by PFEW. It also clears the way for Special Constables to formally join the Police Federation.
Steve added that the Bill protected the public too: “There are elements around increasing the measures available to strengthen the management of sex offenders, trying to keep some of those vulnerable people in society safe.
“There are elements around diverting children who offend from custody. Custody is seldom a place for children and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that keeping children out of the criminal justice system at an early age actually is more likely to reduce their offending later. So really positive measures again for protecting the vulnerable.”
He added: “There are some really positive, useful and well-overdue measures in this Bill. It’s really disappointing that much of that really good work is being overshadowed by recent events.”