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Concern as Cambridgeshire police officers face more than 450 assaults in a year

By Alex Spencer

Jason Ablewhite is Cambridgeshires Police and Crime Commisioner. Picture: Keith Heppell
Jason Ablewhite is Cambridgeshires Police and Crime Commisioner. Picture: Keith Heppell

Police Federation say new law allowing tougher sentences on offenders is much needed

Police officers are at risk of assault on a daily basis
Police officers are at risk of assault on a daily basis

Police officers in Cambridgeshire faced more than 450 assaults last year, new figures show.

The Police Federation has hailed the introduction of a new law which will allow tougher sentences for offenders, saying that officers should not have to consider assault “just part of the job”.

Figures from the Home Office show that between April 2017 and March 2018, 453 assaults against officers were recorded by Cambridgeshire Constabulary. Of those, 81 caused injury.

Oz Merrygold, branch board secretary for Cambridgeshire Police Federation, said: “These figures come as no surprise. We are trying to increase the sentence people would get for assaulting a police officer because, we believe, an assault on a police officer is an assault on the public.

“Assault on a police officer currently attracts a sentence of six months. We would like to see that raised to two years, or even just a year, when cruelty to animals attracts a sentence of five years. It’s only right that those who are protecting the public are given extra assurance that if they are assaulted whilst doing their job they will be protected. There has to be more of a deterrent to stop people assaulting police officers.”

It is the first time that assaults causing injury to police officers have been recorded separately from those against members of

the public.

Assault against an officer without injury is recorded as a distinct offence. Numbers have been published since 2015-16, and they show a marked increase in recent years. In 2017-18, 372 offences were recorded, 58 per cent more than in 2015-16.

Mr Merrygold continued: “It has a knock-on effect when an officer is assaulted. If they need time off that is an officer off the streets, unable to protect the public.

“Even assault without injury, such as spitting on an officer, can have a terrible effect because that officer will have to go for blood tests to ensure they haven’t caught a disease. It is very stressful.”

John Apter, the chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said that the numbers are still likely to under-represent the scale of the problem.

He said: “This is an issue I feel passionately about and I have long campaigned to have it addressed. Any attack on a police officer is unacceptable. And while I am glad that the ONS and the Home Office are improving their data collation regarding assaults on police officers, I do not believe that these figures represent anywhere near the true picture of the level of violence our members face on a daily basis.”

Across England and Wales, 72 assaults on police officers took place every day in 2017-18.

In a bid to tackle the situation, the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill will be passed into law this autumn.

Under it, the fact that assaults are committed against emergency workers will be taken into account when sentencing offenders, potentially leading to tougher sentences.

Cambridgeshire police and crime commissioner Jason Ablewhite said: “As commissioner I will support the force to safeguard the physical and mental wellbeing of police officers and staff and equip them with the skills and equipment they need to carry out their roles safely.

“My budget pays for £250,000 to be spent on new body-worn cameras, which gives officers some protection against spurious claims, reducing the risk of assault and providing an evidence base with which to prosecute in such cases.

“Police officers and staff are often called upon to put their lives on the line to protect the lives of others. I am supportive of any legislation that will send a clear message that attacks on frontline officers will not be tolerated, offering greater protection for the constabulary and tougher sentences for those who commit such crimes.

“No assault on any member of our emergency services is ever acceptable.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on wellbeing, chief constable Andy Rhodes, said: “All too often police officers and police staff are subjected to assaults and threats. While the severity of such attacks changes, the impact upon society does not. It is never acceptable to assume that assaults upon police officers and police staff should be tolerated – they are not simply ‘part of the job’.

“Colleagues suffer not only physical injuries, but there are psychological effects. Many find the return to frontline duties after being assaulted particularly challenging or traumatic.

“We are optimistic that the Assaults on Emergency Workers Bill, when introduced, will go some way to protecting our staff.”

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