A SHARP rise in the number of assaults on police officers over the pandemic has been condemned by the Police Federation of England and Wales. The Home Office recently released its latest set of assault figures covering the period from March last year (when the pandemic begun) up to March 2021. It appears that the number of attacks against police officers has soared by 22%.
Across the 43 forces serving England and Wales, there were almost 37,000 assaults. That figure equates to just over 100 episodes per day. More than half of these (ie 25,734) were crimes of “assault without injury on a constable” which is thought to be due to offenders ‘weaponising’ COVID-19 by spitting and coughing.
Responding to the stark figures, John Apter (national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales) commented: “Throughout the pandemic, we’ve witnessed police officers being subjected to a disgusting level of violence. We now have the figures to prove just how dire the situation has been for my colleagues on the ground.”
Apter continued: “More than 100 of my colleagues are assaulted every single day. That’s a staggering number and something society must not accept. Many of these recorded attacks involve vile individuals who have spat on or coughed at police officers, ‘weaponising’ the virus and threatening to spread it to them and their families.”
He added: “The sentencing guidelines have been changed and I would urge judges and magistrates to use these powers to set an example to those who are assaulting our colleagues. Those responsible must spend time in prison. This unjustified violence is a stain on society and needs to be dealt with robustly.”
Damning letter to Government
In parallel, Apter has written a forthright letter to Downing Street expressing how his organisation’s membership feels about the Government, demanding that the latter overturn its zero per cent pay award decision and calling for a fairer pay review system not influenced by Government itself.
The action follows on from a recent National Council meeting where those present voted through a motion of ‘No Confidence’ in the Home Secretary Priti Patel and agreed to walk away from the ‘not fit for purpose’ Police Remuneration Review Body.
The letter states: “This is about much more than money, though for many the offer of a zero per cent pay rise, after all the police has been through in helping deal with the pandemic, was the final straw. It is about the risks you asked us to take – which we did, because it is our duty – without proper PPE. It is about the endlessly changing and confusing COVID legislation which we were expected to police (which we did, because it is our duty). It is about your mixed messaging and lack of understanding of our role, which combined to put many of our members in invidious positions which led to them being abused and attacked.”
The letter adds: “It is about the failure, despite the promises of the Home Secretary, to take seriously our request that police officers should be given early priority for vaccination. It is about the very strong feeling we have, not least when the Prime Minister and Home Secretary spoke at our Annual Conference, that the warm words flow easily, but the actions that show genuine support for the police do not.”
Series of requests
The Federation is now calling for “a complete reset” of the relationship between Government and the police, starting with the following three requests:
*Stop taking police officers for granted and treat them with respect
*Agree to work with the Federation on an entirely new and fairer system of remuneration decision-making
*Reverse the zero per cent pay award decision and give police officers ameaningful pay increase
The letter continues: “Through a Sunday newspaper column we found out about the new so-called Beating Crime Plan. We don’t need old ideas presented as new. We need genuine investment for the whole of the criminal justice system and genuine consultation over new ideas. Without that, this is just another ill-thought out initiative.”
The Federation concludes: “Police officers are sick of gimmicks. Sick of underfunding. Sick of mixed messaging putting police at risk. Sick of Government contempt for the police. It’s time for a total reset of police-Government relations.”
*Read the open letter to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor in full here