“I got £1 compensation. I would rather get nothing.” - police losing faith in justice system after 500 assaults in a year
PUBLISHED: 08:02 26 April 2018 | UPDATED: 08:23 26 April 2018
Police officers’ faith in the courts when they become victims is at a low ebb after a year which saw more than 500 assaults against them.
PC Dan Taylor has been with Norfolk Constabulary for nine years and in the last year alone has been assaulted 11 times.
On one occasion he was offered just £1 in compensation from the courts. He had been arresting a drink driver near HMP Norwich in September last year when her partner got involved, and assaulted him and a colleague.
“I have no idea why it was £1,” he said. “That was a kick in the teeth and I would rather get nothing. There is no rhyme or reason to it I can make out. Assaults and thefts do not seem to carry much weight in the justice system.
“Assaults on emergency workers as a whole - there is no real deterrent for it. Even members of the public assume that is what we signed up for.
“It is not. We are humans, we go home and try to live normal lives.”
Officers who have been injured in the line of duty have spoken out as new figures reveal a 32pc rise in the number of assaults on police in the last 12 months.
Chief Constable Simon Bailey described it as “unacceptable”.
“Thankfully the majority of assaults are the low end of the scale but on occasions officers are subjected to really violent and horrific assaults,” he said. “In the worst cases officers can end up retiring because they can’t physically do the job any longer or have been traumatised to the point where mentally they do not feel they can go on.
“It can have a really significant impact on the officers and the organisation.”
Between April 2017 and March 2018 515 assaults on police were recorded, including 113 of actual bodily harm and 19 of grievous bodily harm. While 383 were assaults which left no injury, it was a rise on 390 assaults between April 2016 and March 2017.
“It does take its toll,” added PC Taylor. “Trying to go home and explain to your four year old why your arm is in a sling is difficult. Unfortunately it takes its toll on your mental health as well.
“You end up feeling let down as a victim; you feel as though you do not have a lot of faith in the justice system because of these situations.”
Not all injuries are recorded as assaults. PC Laura Harvey, a response officer in Norwich, was attending a domestic incident in January last year when she was dragged down a concrete flight of stairs as the suspect tried to escape.
Despite a hospital visit and two weeks of restricted duties, the incident was downgraded to resisting arrest in court.
The mum of two said: “Sometimes we don’t bother arresting people for assaulting police because we know it won’t go anywhere.
“I think it is down to a lack of respect and no punishment. We do not get to deal with many true victims any more. We are dealing with the same people in society and managing their lives for them.
“It does end up tainting your view and how you deal with people. You get quite cynical and take a step back before going in because you don’t want to get hurt.
“We have to put ourselves in that position because no one else is going to.”
In another incident on February 25 last year, mother of three PC Jo Ford was punched twice in the head.
She had been on public order patrol on Norfolk Street in King’s Lynn, and had only been on shift with the force for three weeks.
There had been a fight in progress outside Bar Red, now The Eagle, and one man had been “angry and shouting verbal abuse”.
“One officer has gone to arrest him at which point she has been pushed,” said PC Ford. “When I went to help he punched me twice - once to my nose and once to my ear.
“By the time I had realised what had happened he was detained on the floor. I was holding on to one of his arms and thought my nose was running. Then I wiped my nose with my sleeve and realised it was bleeding.”
PC Ford added: “You don’t join the police to be assaulted, you do it to try to help people.
“Once upon a time it was quite rare and now it has become the norm.”
Chief Constable Bailey added: “It does, from my personal perspective, come from a lack of respect for authority. You see it across the board, not just police officers but teachers and nurses.
“We are increasing our police officer numbers, giving them the best training and the best equipment I can afford, and making sure the welfare arrangements when officers became victims are as good as they can possibly be.
“People need to know if they assault one of my colleagues there is a possibility they could go to prison for a year. We should be making it clear as a society we are not going to tolerate this.”
Change in the law?
The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill, put forward by Chris Bryant MP, is due to be heard in the Commons on Friday.
It would make the courts view any assault as aggravated if it is committed against an emergency services worker, and could increase the punishment from six months to 12 months in prison.
Andy Symonds, chair of the Norfolk Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, has been lobbying Norfolk MPs to attend and support the bill.
He said: “Officers are fed up of turning up for duty in an ever demanding job, working hard to protect the community only to be punched, kicked, scratched, head-butted and spat at. Officers want protection in the form of a deterrent from the courts when they sentence offenders.”
“These attacks leave their marks physically and mentally. Our officers are not robots; they are human beings who wear a uniform with pride to protect the vulnerable, keep people safe and in doing so put their own safety and mental wellbeing at risk.”
Calls for roll-out of Taser
Calls have been made for a wider rollout of Taser to front line officers and Chief Constable Simon Bailey has ambitions to do so in the next three years.
Chair of Norfolk Police Federation Andy Symonds said in 80pc of cases where Taser is drawn it is not fired due to the deterrent effect.
“Officers want and deserve the best equipment to protect themselves and the community,” he said. “Norfolk officers work in a huge county many parts rural and they can be many miles away from back-up should they need it.
“They need all the equipment to offer them the protection they clearly need. Taser will not stop all assaults but it will go a long way in reducing them due to the deterrent in carrying them.”
Chief Constable Bailey said: “I am currently exploring plans whereby by the end of 2021 every front line officer who wants to carry Taser can do so. I want to ensure my officers are better equipped to protect themselves and feel confident going out every single day.”