Federation leader 'worried' police assaults will rise as lockdown eases

Darren Harris said crime in Suffolk is back to pre-lockdown levels Picture: SUFFOLK POLICE FEDERATIO

Darren Harris, chairman of the Suffolk Police Federation, said it is "unacceptable" that police officers continue to be assaulted. He said more needs to be done. - Credit: SUFFOLK POLICE FEDERATION

Hundreds of Suffolk police officers continue to be assaulted in Suffolk each year - with fears incidents will rise as coronavirus restrictions ease.

There were 366 assaults on police officers in Suffolk between February and November last year - down slightly from 388 in the same period in 2019. 

These figures are much lower than in Norfolk, where 522 officers were assaulted in the street over the 10-month period in 2020 - a slight drop on the 540 recorded in the previous year. 

However Darren Harris, chairman of Suffolk Police Federation, said: "When you look at the Covid-19 pandemic crime such as shoplifting and public order etc has come down, but other areas are up.

"The night-time economy, for example, has dropped off but the number of assaults is still in the hundreds.

"It worries me what will happen when things start to open up and when people can let their hair down. 

"In six months, the number of assaults will probably have gone back up."

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In recent months, there have been a number of incidents involving officers being assaulted. 

Just a few days ago in Bury St Edmunds, one police officer was allegedly bitten, with another headbutted in the face. 

Mr Harris, who himself has been spat at, bitten, punched and headbutted during his policing duties, said there has been a lot of work nationally to increase sentencing powers.

He said more should be done to make the crime socially unacceptable.

"It is still a big issue in Suffolk and nationally," said Mr Harris.

"But it cannot continue to be acceptable for our officers to be assaulted. It is not part of their day job.

"We need to record these incidents, support our officers, and prosecute those who assault them."

Last year, ministers brought forward legislation to double the maximum sentence for those convicted of assaults on frontline staff including police officers, firefighters and paramedics.

It was the second change in two years, after a 2018 law increased the maximum sentence from six months to a year.

Now, those who assault emergency workers face tougher sentences of up to two years in jail.

Mr Harris recognised the increased sentencing powers but said more needs to be done to influence the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to deliver them. 

He said assaults on officers have always been an issue, but explained the risks are much higher due to Covid. 

"In the Bury St Edmunds incident, normally you would not think you could die from a bite. But now you can die from Covid-19," he explained.

"Police officers also haven't been prioritised for the Covid jabs, so my members are vulnerable and if they are headbutted or bitten they may only suffer small injuries, but they could contract the virus.

"The risk now is a lot greater."

Mr Harris said he found being spat at the worst of his assaults, explaining it was the mental impact which stayed with him.

He said it is "rare" for an officer who has served for a number of years not to have been assaulted. 

"It does get you down and sadly we are seeing more of it, but police officers are robust," he said.

"However, people need to be held to account. It is unacceptable."

Police have condemned the figures, while highlighting the courage of officers carrying out their duties during this difficult period. 

“It is completely unacceptable to assault a person who is simply going out to do their job and do their best to serve the community," a spokesman for Suffolk police said. 

"Part of their role is to support, work with and protect the public and we will take action against those people who attack officers and staff to secure a prosecution and bring the perpetrators to justice.

“Fortunately, the majority of these incidents do not end in serious injury.

"However, it will not be tolerated and as a force we will continue to work towards reducing the amount of physical attacks officers and staff have to face whilst serving the public in the county.”