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The average police officer will be assaulted every five or six years that they serve. It is easy to forget that those officers, despite their exceptional work, are regular people; they go to work to earn a living, to put food on the table and a roof over their family’s head. They should not have to put up with the threat of not coming home in one piece. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to all who put themselves in danger to protect us, and, as this debate has shown, we are extremely grateful for the work they do. However, it is our responsibility not only to recognise the problem before us, but to deal with it, too.
The Police Federation has claimed that lenient sentences given to those who assault officers are one of the main reasons that so many officers are harmed. Every force in the UK has incidents each week of police officers receiving punches to the face, bites to the arms, and cuts to the head, but the perpetrators are often let off without custodial sentences. On the occasions when a sentence is given, they can be woefully short. My hon. Friend Holly Lynch and Philip Davies have already raised this, but it is worth repeating: in one instance, a man found guilty of throwing acid in an officer’s face to avoid arrest was given a sentence of only 20 months. I do not think any Member of this House can contemplate how that must make the officer and their family feel.
Officers in our community have been clear time and again that they believe their safety is endangered by the weak sentences given to those who assault officers. We must take those claims seriously and consider tougher sentences for those who attack the police.
We should also consider the increased danger that officers can be in during single staffed patrols. I know that many officers are concerned that they are at increased risk while on their own and it is not right that they are so often forced into such situations. As police numbers have been cut under this Government, single staffed patrols have increased. By the end of the last Parliament, budget cuts meant that my police force, South Wales Police, had 500 fewer officers. The result of this is increased single staffed patrols that put officers in danger, as well as those whom they work to protect. Single staffed patrols too often leave officers in serious peril. If we do not listen to the warnings about budget cuts and the consequential increase in officers working on their own, we will see the effects on police officer safety.
Over the course of this debate alone, some nine police officers will have been assaulted. There will always be instances of police officers being in danger, but those instances need not so often lead to our officers being physically harmed. The police are clear that there are solutions to improving police officer safety—and whether through less lenient sentences or increased funding—we should listen and take note of what they are saying; after all, they are the experts.