The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 was introduced in November 2018 and carries a maximum sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine, where assault or battery is committed against an emergency worker.
One year on, John Apter - National Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales - reflects on the impact and calls on Magistrates and the judiciary to utilise legislation to protect colleagues and hand out jail sentences to offenders.
“Our ‘Protect the Protectors’ campaign was really important in securing a welcome and much needed change in the law last year, which rightly made the crime of assaulting any emergency service worker an offence.
However, the stark reality is that in 2019 any police officer who responds to a call is increasingly likely to be spat at, punched, kicked, or tragically even worse.
Some of the toughest parts of my work involve dealing every day with the aftermath of the increasing number of assaults on my colleagues.
Recent incidents where my colleagues have been injured or, in the tragic case of PC Andrew Harper, who lost his life, bring home just how dangerous the job can be.
The physical and mental scars of these assaults often last a lifetime, while offenders are walking away with short or suspended sentences. This truly is an insult to those officers who put their lives on the line for the public every single day.
From personal experience as a serving police officer I know all about these dangers. I have been assaulted numerous times, and I’ve also been punched unconscious and hospitalised due to the job I do.
While we are closely monitoring how the new legislation is being used and await official statistics, I am still hearing anecdotal cases of incidents where officers are being assaulted and their attackers get what amounts to nothing more than a slap on the wrist. This is plain wrong.
We need a concerted effort to make sure those who choose to attack police officers are dealt with appropriately by the courts, and officers need to be fully supported to report every incident where they are attacked.
The Crown Prosecution Service must charge offenders with the correct offence and continue with this - even when there are multiple other offences on a charge sheet. An attack on a police officer should never be plea bargained away.
We need Magistrates and the judiciary to utilise the full power of the law and send a clear and unequivocal message this type of behaviour will not be tolerated.
As a result, we will not cease to campaign and lobby for those who assault our brave and hardworking colleagues to be given the harshest sentences – as punishment, and as a deterrent. This is the language offenders understand, and only then can we begin to stamp out this completely unacceptable behaviour.
The sheer number of assaults is truly shocking, and it is high time the existing legislation was utilised as it was meant.”