Column: Assaults must not be tolerated

Neil Bowles
Neil Bowles

This month I have decided to return to a subject close to my, and I hope every right-thinking person’s heart – police officers’ safety.

We join the police, a public service, with a sense of duty, to protect the public, and to lock up the bad guys. We are just ordinary people, the vast majority having grown up in the communities where they now work.

The British policing model is based on public consent, where the powers that the police can exercise come from the consent of the public rather than the power of the state.

Officers are trained to deal with confrontational situations, hopefully defusing most by just plain talking. However, if this does not work then there is a sliding scale of physical force that can be applied according to various factors. The use of force is a last resort, it has to be reasonable, legitimate and necessary, and only enough to achieve the purpose. It is used to protect the public, each other and sometimes the person it is used upon.

The public consent to the police to use these powers for the greater good. However, force used upon the police does not have public consent and is unlawful.

An assault on a police officer is an assault on the public and society. It is not part of the job, it is unacceptable. It has a cost, not just the pain and suffering of the officer. If the officer goes sick due to an assault, there are fewer officers to protect the public.

In the last two years the Federation have worked with the force to ensure we treat all assaults on officers with the seriousness it deserves. We are in consultation with management about officer safety training and the wider issue of conducted electrical weapons, Taser.

There is one area we do not seem to be hitting, the judiciary.

We have had three serious incidents this year, which have yet to go to trial. There have been examples around the country, where offenders have been treated very lightly – so where is the deterrent? There needs to be serious punishment to show that society will not tolerate assaults on officers.

As I write this, I am reminded that four years ago today (September) 18, two policewomen attended an emergency call in Manchester, were ambushed and murdered by Dale Cregan. Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes had no idea that they were attending a premediated trap, and they were cut down by automatic fire and a grenade upon their arrival. Their murder was felt by the public throughout the country, and Cregan got a rare whole life term.

Thankfully these events are rare.

Lesser assaults, about 63 per day in England and Wales, are all too frequent and need to be dealt with appropriately.