In the year of the pandemic, the Police Federation has continued to fight relentlessly for members to stem an increase in violence that resulted in 30,000 assaults against officers in the past year- a rise of over 5 per cent. In a detailed Q&A session, PFEW National Chair John Apter tackled some difficult issues head on and explained how the Federation is campaigning hard to make the job safer for all our members. He also listed his priorities as we rapidly head towards 2021.
John Apter on: The massive increase in assaults on police officers
“These figures come as no surprise. Every time statistics come out, they show that there’s been an increase in the number of officers who have been assaulted. Any assault on an officer is totally unacceptable and to see the number increasing is extremely concerning.
“Combatting violence against police officers is at the top of the Federation’s agenda – and mine. PFEW has done a lot of work on this and continues to do so – whether that is the Protect the Protectors campaign to pushing for a Police Covenant to provide better protections for officers.”
On Protect the Protectors and harsher sentencing
“The Federation’s Protect the Protectors’ campaign successfully brought about the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018, which saw the maximum penalty for assaulting an emergency worker increased from six to 12 months, and, this year, the bringing forward of a new law to increase that maximum from 12 months to two years. In addition to this, we’ve also been lobbying the Sentencing Council to make sure this two year maximum is fully utilised to deter attacks on blue light workers.
On the use of spit guards
JA: “The Federation has long been campaigning for officers to carry spit guards and I’m glad that as a result of this most officers in England and Wales can now do so. I find it staggering there was an initial reluctance from politicians and leaders in policing regarding spit guards when it was obvious they were badly needed. It won’t prevent spitting, but it’s another tool in the policing toolbox to protect officers and their families from harm.”
On Taser use
JA: “I know of countless occasions when Taser has without doubt saved the lives of officers and members of the public. In many cases, it has prevented officers from having to use greater force.
“I know that Taser is contentious for some, but I would ask them - what’s the alternative? PFEW supports a much wider rollout of Taser and I firmly believe every officer who wants to carry one - and we know many do - should have access.
“When I first became National Chair in 2018, I campaigned for ringfenced funding for Taser. This achieved £10 million to supply Forces with this essential equipment. It’s not enough, of course, but certainly a good start. Since then, we’ve continued to see Taser rolled out to more officers, even though COVID has slowed down the training.”
On the Officer Safety Review
“PFEW was involved with the National Police Chief Council’s (NPCC) Officer Safety Review from the beginning, and provided some of the evidence on which the final 28 recommendations were based. The final set of recommendations may not have gone as far as we wanted, but it’s a start and a good place to be in.
“I’m encouraged that, as a result of the findings we presented, the NPCC has set up an overarching strategic officer safety board under Chief Constable Alan Pughsley from Kent Police to examine every aspect of officer and staff safety. I have been invited to sit on this board, and I will make sure our members’ voices are heard. Nothing is more important than the safety of my colleagues, and I will continue to work to make sure they get the training, equipment and oversight they need.
On assaults on officers using vehicles
JA: “We have seen the increased use of vehicles against police officers, involving ramming or the use of vehicles to mow down police officers and staff. Current laws don’t fully capture the gravity of such an offence. On one extreme you have attempted murder: on the other it is dangerous driving. There must be a specific offence of using a vehicle in this way to cause harm to others. This is something I’ve discussed with the NPCC and raised with the Home Office to see how we can offer as much protection to officers as possible. We are pushing to see an addition in the Police Powers and Protections Bill early next year to provide the change in law needed.”
On Operation Hampshire
“The work on officer safety continues at a local and national level, and that won’t stop. But behind every statistic is a police officer or a member of staff - a human being. I’ve spoken to many officers who have been through an assault and the human cost is terrible.
I’ve seen many officers struggle to get back into a role and some, sadly, are then medically retired. I accept we can’t prevent every assault, but we must do more on behalf of those who have been attacked simply for doing their job.
This was foremost in my mind when, as Chair of Hampshire Police Federation, along with my Chief Constable, I created the original Seven-Point Plan in 2016 to ensure officers and police staff assaulted at work were treated fairly. I am proud it’s now being used by the Metropolitan Police Service under the name Operation Hampshire.
The NPCC and College of Policing are now working with the Metropolitan Police to roll out Operation Hampshire across forces. I want to offer my thanks to Met Chief Inspector Dave Brewster, who is leading the work, and I’m confident Operation Hampshire will add the extra layer of support needed for our colleagues.
The safety of my colleagues will always be a priority for me. I’m proud of the work we have done on this. We have helped to improve equipment, training, the way officers are deployed to jobs, the support available to colleagues who have been assaulted, and to increase sentences for those responsible. We have lobbied and challenged to make improvements in all of these areas, and have met with considerable success.
However, there is always more to do. I promise I won’t stop highlighting the shocking violence our colleagues face every day. Policing is dangerous and unpredictable, but that shouldn’t stop us from doing everything possible to keep our colleagues safe and ensure there are credible deterrents in place for those who attack our officers. The safety of our officers is non-negotiable.”