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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’.

Community

Southern Rail joins train companies extending free train travel for survivors of domestic abuse

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Govia Thameslink Railway is supporting an extended nationwide initiative to help domestic abuse victims reach refuge accommodation by offering free train travel.

Govia Thameslink Railway’s Chief Operating Officer Steve White said:

“With the numbers of survivors of domestic abuse soaring during the pandemic, charities are expecting a surge in people trying to escape to a refuge when lockdown restrictions relax. Abusers frequently withhold money, which is why the free train travel we offer as an industry is so vitally important for the hundreds of victims making use of this scheme.”

Southern Rail and its parent company Govia Thameslink are joining other train companies in extending free train travel for survivors of domestic abuse until the end of March next year.

The move comes as figures show four survivors a day, on average, have been using the scheme and reports show that abuse has worsened during coronavirus restrictions.  

Charities are bracing themselves for a surge in people fleeing abusive relationships when restrictions are lifted. The extension will help hundreds more people to take the train, for free, to reach a safe refuge.  

Rail to refuge is a joint initiative between rail companies and Women’s Aid in which train operators cover the cost of train tickets for women, men and children travelling to refuge accommodation. Since April, train operators have provided free tickets to 836 people, including 210 children. In other words, four survivors have travelled to safety each day on average using the Rail to refuge scheme. 

First introduced by Southeastern in September 2019 and then GWR on its routes in March 2020, all train operators joined the Rail to refuge scheme on 9 April with the original plan to keep it in place for approximately 12 weeks or for the duration of lockdown.  

However, with refuges expecting a spike in demand after the current national restrictions are eased, the scheme is now being extended for the rest of the financial year until the end of March 2021. This means hundreds more survivors will access free travel. 

The number of survivors of domestic abuse asking for help has soared during the pandemic. Women’s Aid reported a 41% increase in users visiting its instant messaging Live Chat site within the first two weeks of lockdown in March and as a result extended its opening hours to 10am – 4pm daily. Respect, which runs the Men’s Advice Line, has increased service hours from 46 to 75 hours weekly to support male victims, after seeing a huge increase in demand since March. 

Refuges expect to see the increase in demand across their services continue in the coming months as domestic abuse is worsening and abusers are using the pandemic as a tool for abuse. A recent Women’s Aid survey shows 61% of survivors living with their abuser reported that abuse worsened from March – June 2020, under tighter coronavirus restrictions.  

Many survivors have experienced years of economic abuse, which restricts their practical ability to escape. Free travel can be a lifeline for people fleeing abuse who may not have access to cash. Two-thirds (63%) of people that booked a journey through Rail to refuge said they would not have travelled if the journey had not been paid for. 

Nicki Norman, acting Chief Executive of Women’s Aid said: 

Women face huge barriers in leaving an abuser. Notonly is it an extremely dangerous time, but many survivors have experienced years of economic abuse, which restricts their practical ability to escape. Women tell us that they simply cannot afford to leave because the perpetrator has controlled their money and they have none of their own. Many women and children escape to a refuge with nothing at all.  

Thanks to the rail industry removing the financial barriers of travel, hundreds of women have left abusive relationships and been able to access safety. It is welcome news that this important initiative is being extended, especially as the COVID 19 pandemic continues to severely impact survivors of domestic abuse.” 

Jacqueline Starr, Chief Operating Officer at the Rail Delivery Group, said: 

“We’re proud to have provided a vital lifeline for almost a thousand people escaping a desperate situation, but there are still too many women, men and children that need help. Our staff are working hard to support the survivors of domestic abuse with free train journeys while keeping the railway running for all the people, communities and local economies that rely on it.” 

Survivors of domestic abuse who would like to access the scheme, or need other support, can get in touch with Women’s Aid through their Live Chat service, open Monday – Friday, 10:00am – 4:00pm, Saturday and Sunday 10:00am – 12:00pm: https://chat.womensaid.org.uk 

If you would like to contribute to help survivors access the lifesaving support they need and help them reach refuge, please make a donation today: www.womensaid.org.uk/rail-to-refuge (link goes live on 23 November 2020, 00.01).

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