Reinforcing the protection around the officers who protect us
PUBLISHED: 11:46 31 August 2019 | UPDATED: 15:12 02 September 2019
Norfolk police and crime commissioner Lorne Green is calling for extra protection for police officers while on duty
Police officers don't leave their homes and families to go to work to be assaulted. We need them on the front line keeping us safe, not in a hospital A&E as victims of assault.
Parliament's Assaults on Emergency Services Act last year increased the maximum sentence for common assault against a police officer from six months to 12. I firmly believed it should be increased to a maximum five years and lobbied hard to that end. By comparison, the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill currently before the House of Commons would increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty offences from six months to five years. What does it say to our brave police officers who put their safety on the line to keep us safe?
I have seen no evidence of a decline in assaults against police officers since the maximum sentence was increased to 12 months. According to one recent report, the average jail term for common assault against a police officer is two months. Now I don't believe for a moment that a drink or drug-fuelled individual would necessarily be deterred from striking out against a police officer because of the risk of a five-year sentence. If, however, in but one instance in 100 it did deter, it would be worth it. And importantly, the threat of a lengthy maximum sentence would give powerful expression to the community's abhorrence of such violence against those who serve to protect us.
Police officers, putting their personal safety on the line to keep us safe, deserve to know that we value and respect them greatly. In 2000 an Armed Forces Covenant was introduced to give expression to the mutual obligations between the nation and the armed forces. Our police officers, and their families, deserve as much. It should have given great hope to police officers that the home secretary, Priti Patel, said recently that government was accelerating plans for a Police Covenant designed to enshrine protections for police.
Central government, local government, communities, businesses and charities should commit themselves to giving special regard to the wellbeing and welfare of police officers, in service and in retirement, and their families when in need. So what does this entail?
A Police Covenant should go well-beyond nice words and generalities. It must be substantive and specific. For a start I would suggest those injured in service, or have health issues related to service, should have access to additional support, both while in service and in retirement. A covenant should pledge itself to the well-being of police families, particularly where there are issues arising from or exacerbated by the police officer's service.
It should be developed in conjunction with police officers themselves to ensure its success.
To avoid any suggestions in future that a Police Covenant is a "paper tiger" it should include provision for a national Police Covenant commissioner. The commissioner's duty would be to ensure the substantive development, implementation and maintenance of the covenant. The commissioner would continue to monitor the well-being and welfare of the police officer community as they relate to the covenant and represent their interests in relation to the covenant.
During my time as Norfolk's police and crime commissioner I have overseen an increase in the number of mental health professionals in the control room who are there to support police officers both in the conduct of their duties, and to provide personal support. I have also ensured there continues to be sympathetic constabulary support for the mental health challenges that arise from the most harrowing police incidents. More can be done.
I want the brave men and women of our police forces across the country to know how much they are valued and respected by the communities and country they serve. The introduction of a Police Covenant gives us a major opportunity to protect our protectors.