15 August 2018
WILTSHIRE Chief Constable Kier Pritchard is to introduce spit and bite guards, extra Tasers and more training in unarmed combat to help his officers stay safe in the face of a huge rise in the number of assaults on police.
Mr Pritchard has made it his mission to make policing in Wiltshire as safe as it can be after the number of injuries caused to officers during assaults rose from 55 to 103 in the past year.
He said: “I make a point of visiting or speaking to every officer who is assaulted. I know the affect it can have on not just the officer but the whole family.”
Mr Pritchard has been revealing the extent of the problem as part of the force’s summer-long Beyond the Beat campaign. He said in the past few days he had visited an officer who had been spat at punched and kicked while attending a domestic incident in west Wiltshire.
He said: “That officer will now have a long wait to find out if he has been infected with any diseases. It is this sort of added pressure which can weigh on people’s minds and effects loved ones.”
But despite the extra dangers now faced by police Mr Pritchard said he would still be pleased if any of his five children decided to follow him into the force.
He joined the Wiltshire force as a 19-year-old in 1993 and his twin sons are now the same age. He said: “As a young officer I walked the streets of Swindon with just a helmet, truncheon and handcuffs as protection.
“I can remember being verbally abused, there being a bit of spitting and pushing but I never needed medical treatment. There was not the same level of hostility back then.”
The international spotlight has been on the Wiltshire force following the Novichok poisonings in Salisbury and Amesbury and Mr Pritchard said these along with terrorist attacks such as the one on Westminster Bridge on Tuesday show how officers put themselves in danger every day.
He said: “They continuously run into danger whilst others run away. I speak to officers on a near daily basis that have been assaulted or abused on duty.
“As a Force we are now working on introducing additional measures to ensure that our officers have increased protection going forward and are adequately supported when they become victims themselves.” This will include spit guards, more Tazers and extra tuition in unarmed combat.
One officer who knows what it is like to be seriously assaulted is Sgt Gill Hughes who is based in Trowbridge. As part of the campaign she has re-lived the night when she was sent alone to deal with an incident where a car had crashed into a number of parked cars in November 2012.
She ran after a suspect and ended up being punched in the face. She said: “At once I pressed my panic button, but he continued to punch me and grabbed my head, smacking it against a wall.
“I managed to use my Pava spray, but it was having no affect at all, so I used the canister to hit him around the head to try to get him off me. But it was no use, by this point he had hold of my stab vest and was using it to choke me.
“I couldn’t breathe and all I could think was that I was going to die. I truly believed that I was never going to see my children again.”