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I thank those on the Labour Front Bench for choosing this topic for debate today and my hon. Friend Holly Lynch for championing this issue. I congratulate my hon. Friend Tracy Brabin on her brilliant maiden speech, which was very moving. We look forward to many more.
I put on record my thanks to hard-working police officers and support staff, both on the frontline and in the back office. From dealing with Gwent police as the local MP and from my time on the police force parliamentary scheme, I know just how hard police officers and support staff work. I know their complete dedication to serving the public and how tough their job is.
In the firm opinion of the people who contacted me prior to this debate with powerful stories to tell that deserve to be aired, the cuts have depleted numbers on the frontline and certainly impacted on front-line capabilities, as well as increasing the risks to officer safety. In Gwent, we have 1,127 police officers, whereas in March 2010 there were 1,437 full-time equivalent officers—a 20% cut. I am pleased that this year Gwent is recruiting new officers for the first time in three years, but we have had a loss of hundreds of experienced officers. Cuts of that severity are bound to have an effect. It will take time to bring the new people through.
As has been reiterated in this debate, we lack reliable data on incidents involving officers. We need that data, so we are better able to tackle the problem. Police officers have told me that they agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax when she says that the thin blue line is stretched far too thinly. Single-crewing is common practice and there is a heightened risk of harm because of that. Officers also tell me that numbers on a shift may look fine, but they do not relate to the numbers available to deal with crime. Shift numbers often include those on leave, on sick or on secondment. If we take off those waiting in custody or with injured people, the numbers are significantly lower.
Injuries sustained in the line of duty are far too frequent. They are becoming an acceptable part of the job and that should never be the case. It is not just a hazard of the job: it is clearly unacceptable. Officers report a noticeable reduction in respect for police officers and assaulting a police officer is not taken sufficiently seriously. I support the call in the motion for statutory guidance on sentencing uniformly across the country, which reflects the seriousness of the issue.
Police officers cannot protect us if they cannot protect themselves. I will just finish with this: a woman who is married to a police officer contacted me to describe just how the injuries her husband sustains in the course of his work affect the family. It has got to the point where, to stop their children worrying, the couple lie about how he sustains his injuries. She says:
“According to my children he is the clumsiest dad ever, as we have had to tell them ‘dad fell over a bin chasing someone,’ ‘dad walked into a cupboard door in the station,’ ‘dad caught himself on the police car door.’
I am tired of seeing my husband come home injured and having to lie to my children to about how he sustained his injuries. I worry every time he is late home and grateful every time he returns home safely.”
It is time that we did more—to say that that is unacceptable for such families and to support our officers who are out there on our behalf.