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Assaults on us are ‘not part of the job’ says Sussex Police as figures show 16% rise in attacks on officers

On the day that figures were released showing that assaults on officers in Sussex have risen by 16 per cent over the last four years, three officers were attacked in Brighton and Hove with two hospitalised as a result of their injuries.

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Deputy Chief Constable Jo Shiner has said that such assaults must never be seen as ‘part of the job’.

She said: “Working for the police can be a dangerous and unpredictable job and every day our brave officers and staff work hard, often in difficult and challenging circumstances, to keep people safe.

“Being assaulted while they are doing that is completely unacceptable and must never be seen as part of the job.”

In the last four years, assaults on officers in Sussex have risen by 16 per cent with 1,033 being recorded in 2018/19 – an average of three a day. Of these, 288 resulted in injuries and included kicks, punches, scratches and bruising, through to more serious incidents such as dislocations, fractures and concussion. Additionally, officers are regularly subjected to being spat at, which in many cases leads to them having to undergo a worrying wait following HIV and hepatitis tests.

On Thursday evening (August 15), two officers attended an address in Hove to conduct a welfare check where suspected ‘cuckooing’ was taking place. They were both attacked, with one of them being punched several times to the head, resulting in concussion. He was taken to the Royal Sussex County Hospital where he remained overnight. During the fracas, his colleague’s knee was dislocated and she was also taken to hospital, where the injury is to be assessed for a suspected hairline fracture.

A 23-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of wounding or inflicting grievous bodily harm without intent and remained in custody on Friday lunchtime.

Elsewhere in the city, a wanted man was spotted walking in New Road on Thursday morning. While he was being detained, he allegedly became aggressive and abusive.

A 35-year-old man of no fixed address was arrested on suspicion of common assault of an emergency worker, assault by beating of an emergency worker, a racially aggravated public order offence and failing to appear in court. He also remained in custody on Friday.

DCC Shiner continued:

“Since 2017 we have worked with the Police Federation, the Superintendents’ Association and Unison to get a better picture of how many officers are being assaulted as many were just shrugging off minor and sometimes more serious incidents and not reporting them.

“Every day officers go out on the frontline to protect the public and this often means helping them at times when they are going through or find themselves in challenging or difficult situations. While distressing, this does not give anyone the right to physically or verbally assault our officers or staff. If anyone in force is assaulted while on duty the impact can be both physically and psychologically significant. Not only is that individual affected, but also their team and their family.

“While assaults on officers and staff do occur, we are committed to doing everything we can to reduce these. However, when they do happen, we will do all that we can to support those affected.

“We believe a significant majority of the public would also support that message and hope that an assault on any emergency worker will be seen as the crime that it is and completely unacceptable.”

Matt Webb, chair of the Sussex Police Federation, said:

“Every day my members, the rank and file officers of Sussex Police, go out to serve our communities, to protect the vulnerable and to prevent harm. An assault on any one of them is an assault on society and should never be seen as part of the job. No other profession would be expected to accept such an attitude; and neither should we.

“We continue to work closely with the Force to ensure when these incidents occur individuals are supported and seen as the ‘victims of crime’ that they are. We have taken huge steps forward in this area in recent years and will continue to work together to improve the situation further.

“For a number of years we have lobbied for greater protection for police officers, and others, and last year saw The Assaults on Emergency Service Workers Bill gain Royal Ascent and become law – giving magistrates greater sentencing powers. However, there remains work to be done to ensure that offenders are always charged with the correct offence, the offence that reflects the level of the assault, to ensure proportionate and appropriate sentencing powers are available to the courts. It can never be right, especially when officers are seriously injured, that offenders are back on the streets before the officers are.”

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‘Grin and bear it?’ The Sussex Police problem that is NOT part of the job

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First of all let me say this is not a problem just with Sussex Police officers. This is a nationwide issue.

On the 30th April 2020 a press release was issued by Sussex Police that described an increase in assaults on police officers and other emergency workers during the coronavirus pandemic as ‘sickening’.

The hard statement came from, the now Chief Constable, Jo Shiner.

She said:

It is absolutely sickening that police officers, staff and other emergency workers, putting themselves in harm’s way every day to help others, are being faced with violence and the threat of contamination.

Whilst assaults on police officers is nothing new, the virus had bred a new disgusting way in which certain individuals were unleashing a torrid wave of unparalleled viciousness through coughing and spitting whilst additionally claiming they had COVID-19.

If I get hurt during that I will judge the day on whether I helped someone or not, that’s it.

In-fact the situation had become so bad that in just over one month, assaults on Sussex officers had been recorded at 122 assaults.

This was an increase of 58% when compared to the same one month period in the previous year.

But let’s take a look here at what this actually reflects.

When the coronavirus was not even a thought in anyones mind, assaults on officers for the same period last year in Sussex were around 77. That’s more than two a day!

“the very people who are being attacked are sometimes not even reporting it”

Between 2018 and 2019 there were 1,033 assaults reported on Sussex police officers, a rise of almost 20%. More alarmingly the rise of these assaults which caused an injury on an officer rose almost 30%.

The figures put Sussex 8th highest out of all UK forces for assaults on officers. Of course each force has different numbers of officers but even with the MET put aside for a moment it still puts them in the top quarter of all UK forces.

This is one leader board no-one wants to be at the top of.

But there is a reality here that is even more concerning. These figures are unlikely to be true. The truth is they are most likely much higher because the very people who are being attacked are sometimes not even reporting it.

Why? Why are they not reporting what is happening to them? Why would an officer, who works so hard to protect other people, who tries their hardest to encourage others to report incidents not follow their own advice?

We spoke to two officers from two different areas across Sussex on the assurance that we would not reveal their identities.

The first, Officer A was very experienced with over a decade in the force. The officer almost laughed off the number of times they had been assaulted.

“If I reported every single time I have been assaulted I wouldn’t get any work done. Sometimes it’s necessary as part of the arrest to report it, but other times it would just cause more paperwork when there are more important issues at hand.”

More important issues than being assaulted?

Officer B has only been with the force for six months and in that time has already seen for themselves colleagues get hurt.

“I have been lucky so far and I mean that. I have seen others I am with get really hurt, pick themselves up and limp along to the next job. I don’t want that to happen but I know it will one day. Look, my job satisfaction comes from being there for someone. If I get hurt during that I will judge the day on whether I helped someone or not, that’s it.”

Did they report it and if it happened to you would you report it? I asked.

I got a shrug back.

But this is not something new I have come across. In-fact the force here and up and down the UK is fully aware of two main issues.

ONE, that assaults are getting more frequent and…

TWO, that some officers are not reporting it, treating it as ‘part of the job’ an unacceptable description as confirmed by Assistant Chief Constable Jayne Dando in response to our questions on the rising figures.

She said:

“Working for the police can be a dangerous and unpredictable job and every day our brave officers and staff work hard, often in difficult and challenging circumstances, to keep people safe.

“Being assaulted while they are doing that is completely unacceptable and must never be seen as part of the job.”

The issue of none reporting goes back years and it was only in 2017 when an effort to understand the real situation was made.

ACC Dando continues:

“Since 2017 we have worked with the Police Federation, the Superintendents’ Association and Unison to get a better picture of how many officers are being assaulted as many were just shrugging off minor and sometimes more serious incidents and not reporting them.

“Every day officers go out on the frontline to protect the public and this often means helping them at times when they are going through or find themselves in challenging or difficult situations. While distressing, this does not give anyone the right to physically or verbally assault our officers or staff. If anyone in force is assaulted while on duty the impact can be both physically and psychologically significant. Not only is that individual affected, but also their team and their family.

There are also two very different assaults we need to be aware of. There is the physical assault. The one where bruises and broken bones or faces dripping with spit or blood occur. And then there are the mental assaults.

“it is those who have been assaulted who bear the scars long after a punitive fine has been paid”

I have said in previous articles that police are no different to you and I. They have feelings as well, despite many maintaining such a professional persona you can easily miss any real pain going on inside. But it’s there.

The mental assaults can also be split into two further areas. The first is the mental assaults that are inflicted upon them from the aggressors. The ones that have no right to act in this way ever. The other? I will explain that at the end.

So how do you stop this? How do you reduce a problem that appears to be growing and growing rapidly?

Forces are revealing new innovative ways of dealing with crime, new specialist units are being created and extra resources are being pushed through to stay ahead of criminals.

But whilst this is all exciting and encouraging news, more needs to be done to protect, both mentally and physically, the silent ones. The ones who are being assaulted. Both those who report it and those who don’t.

ACC Dando:

“While assaults on officers and staff do occur, we are committed to doing everything we can to reduce these. However, when they do happen, we will do all that we can to support those affected.

“We believe a significant majority of the public would also support that message and hope that an assault on any emergency worker will be seen as the crime that it is and completely unacceptable.”

It’s all very well increasing fines and punishments, but at the end of the day, it is those who have been assaulted who bear the scars long after a punitive fine has been paid.

I said there was another mental assault earlier. The reason I have left it to the end is because it is a very different type of assault. It is not one that would ever get reported in the same way as any other assault of an officer.

“This is our responsibility now and we need to make a stand”

Why? Because it is an assault that alas is part of the job. No it is not a contradiction of the ACC’s earlier words.

It is an assault that unfortunately happens at incidents such as accidents, where the mind is assaulted with visuals that have no place in anyones memory. Be under no illusion, this is an assault as well, a mental one that no preparation can ready anyone for. Yes it is not in the same class as ones made by vicious nasty assailants, but the repercussions mentally could be just as bad if not far worst.

Sussex Police are able to offer a lot of welfare support to officers and staff, and are in-fact now currently trialing a ‘trauma tracker’ – a very upsetting reality of a job on the front line.

“under no circumstances should any officer ever have to grin and bear it”

But before you think I am writing about doom and gloom take a moment to look back at what the officers we spoke to said. Read the way they spoke about ‘more important issues’ and ‘If I get hurt during that I will judge the day on whether I helped someone or not, that’s it’.

There was no anger. There was no bitterness. There was only a desire to continue doing the job they want to do.

The change needs to come from us, the public. The reality is there is only so much a police force can do to protect its staff. Yes they can have all the training in the world, all the best equipment and the strongest stab vests. But unless society takes a stand and says STOP! then the reality is the figures may continue to increase.

This is our responsibility now and we need to make a stand, because under no circumstances should any officer ever have to ‘grin and bear it’.

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