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Police Officer Safety

Part of Community Pharmacies – in the House of Commons at 4:20 pm on 2nd November 2016.

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Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Shadow Home Secretary 4:20 pm, 2nd November 2016

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that there is a correlation between cuts in police numbers, the rising tide of crime and the increasing number of assaults on police officers. Whatever the precise quantum of the data on assaults and whatever the precise trends over time, we have a duty to foster the social contract between the police and the public—I mentioned that at the beginning of my remarks—and to protect them both.

I want to tell the House about the very important eight-point plan recently adopted by the Metropolitan police. It reflects an initiative by the Hampshire Police Federation, and the Met has called it Operation Hampshire. We hope that this very important plan will be rolled out across all police forces. The Met’s plan states that a member of the operational command unit’s senior leadership team should be informed of all assaults; a MetAir form should be filled in for every assault; the total victim care and victim codes of practice should apply to officers and staff, just as they do to the public; officers should not investigate their own assault; officers should not write their own statements; the best evidence must be presented; learning from each assault should be captured; and being assaulted should not be seen as part of the job. It is excellent that the Met has adopted this plan, and I hope it will be rolled out in every police force around the country.

In the light of that plan, I am interested in the new developments with body-worn cameras for police officers. The Metropolitan police, under the leadership of Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe and my former right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has embarked on a programme of rolling out body-worn video across the London boroughs. Where that has been trialled elsewhere, there has been a sharp reduction in the number of complaints against the police. There can be little doubt that the presence of a camera will lead to an improvement in behaviour by all parties in what are often stressful or even dangerous incidents. The police can be reassured that any assailant will be recorded, and of course members of the public should be reassured that the actions of the police officer are also being recorded.

As a party, we believe in investment, not austerity. We believe that capital investment in our policing will improve it. Investment in body-worn cameras will save money by reducing the number of complaints against the police and the costs of evidence collection. There is of course a need for safeguards on the use of body-worn cameras—in relation to civil liberties, such as whether their use should be compulsory, and who has access to what is filmed—but the principle is correct. Body-worn video leads to better policing and fewer complaints against the police.

There have been several studies on the use of body-worn cameras, and I will give a flavour of some of the results. One US study showed a 50% reduction in the police use of force. A UK study showed greater levels of prosecution in cases of domestic violence. In a Scottish study, there was a higher incidence of early guilty pleas. In many cases, there has been a reduction in the number of complaints against the police, while in many others, there has been a lower level of assaults against the police. That is why we are raising this question in this important debate. We need better processes and procedures—that is what the Metropolitan police is seeking to introduce—but we need capital investment, in the Met and in police forces up and down the country, in things such as body-worn cameras. [Interruption.] This is not humorous; this about police officer safety and the public being reassured that Ministers are doing everything they can to keep our police officers safe.

The most recent figures show that the number of assaults on police is falling, but the fact is that there are increasingly fewer police to be assaulted or to protect us. Home Office statistics show that there were 19,700 fewer police officers by March this year than there were when the coalition came to office in 2010. As my hon. Friend Jack Dromey said, the numbers are falling in the west midlands. Police officer numbers have fallen every year under the coalition and under this Government: one in seven police officers have been lost. I recently met Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe of the Metropolitan police, who told me that, at this point, the cuts imposed by this Government have largely been absorbed by a reduction in non-police staff, selling old police stations and asset shortfalls. Now, however, for the first time, the biggest police force in the country is looking at a reduction in police numbers. It seems to the Opposition that under this Government the thin blue line keeps getting thinner.

In cases of serious assault involving injuries to police officers and in the extremely rare incidents of firearms or deadly weapons being used against officers, we believe that the culprits should expect the stiffest sentences.

We believe that the issue of assaults on police officers is very serious. It needs to be taken seriously, including in the gathering and collating of reliable data that are consistent across all police forces. While that is in progress, we should address measures that will tackle such assaults now, such as the introduction of body-worn cameras across all police forces in England and Wales, and encourage our colleagues in the devolved Assemblies to do the same.

Before I conclude my remarks, I congratulate the chair of the Hampshire Police Federation, John Apter, on his work. I am sure that we will not always agree, but his campaigning on the issue of violence against the police deserves the commendation of the whole House. We need to protect the protectors. The Opposition are glad to have brought this issue to the Floor of the House and we urge Ministers to consider some of the measures that I have suggested.