Officers fear violence, but do not want to carry guns

16 May 2016

Close up of officers' personal protective equipment

Despite the threat of violence, the majority of officers in England and Wales do not want to carry firearms, according to a new national survey.

And while officers go about their work, nearly 60% say they are subjected to insults from the public – swearing, shouting and abuse – at least once a month. 17% say this happens on a daily basis.

The results come from research into a range of policing issues, carried out by the Police Federation of England and Wales in conjunction with the University of Nottingham earlier this year, with nearly 17,000 officers taking part.

It found that of those officers surveyed, almost four in 10 fear they will be subject to violence when they go to work. That vulnerability when carrying out their roles could explain why 63% said they either have or want to be double crewed.

In looking at what protection measures officers had or would like access to, of those officers who responded:

  • just 18% said they have regular access to body worn cameras, but a third more would like to (33%).
  • while just 14% confirmed that they have access to Taser, 43% more want it, totalling 57% overall.
  • about a quarter confirmed that they already have double-crewing, but just under 40% more want it – totalling 63% overall.
  • Only a third of surveyed officers either have or want access to rapid response firearms teams, while only a fifth have or want personal firearms.

Where officers did not already have access to certain types of personal protective equipment (PPE), they were most likely to say that they want access to Taser (42.5% of the whole sample), followed by double-crewing (38.9%) and body worn video (33.2%).

Officers were also asked to what extent they were concerned by fear of future violence from members of the public. Only 9% of those who responded said “not at all”, while 38% said either “a lot” or “very much.”

In response to what levels of threats officers had experienced in the last 12 months:

  • 44% experienced verbal threats (e.g. threat of hitting) at least once a month. 7% said this was daily.
  • 35% experienced unarmed physical attacks (eg struggling to get free, hitting) at least once a month.
  • 6% experienced use of a deadly weapon (ranging from bottles or stick to firearms) at least once a month.
Steve White, chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “It is unacceptable that officers go out to work and receive the level of abuse, or the threat of violence they do and it is little wonder that this takes a toll on their physical and mental wellbeing.

“We also believe that officers need to have access to the right kit to help protect themselves, and that those who do assault officers feel the full weight of the law.

“We have been calling for some time for those officers who want access to Taser to have it and to be better supported in the workplace, such as being double crewed where it is appropriate to do so. But the stretch on resources, and the lack of investment in adequate protective kit means they are being let down time and again. How long do we have to wait before the Government sits up and takes notice?”

A fifth of those officers who reported whether or not they had had an injury caused by violence at work (1,829) had at least one such injury in the last year. Of these officers, 57 reported having multiple injuries, and other injuries included concussion or internal injuries (68) and fractures (142). There were over 2,000 incidents requiring officers to take time off due to injury, of these 34% (706) needed more than eight days.