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This issue has always been of personal importance to me. For nearly 30 years, my father was a West Midlands police officer, serving in the mounted branch and the firearms unit. In the 1980s, I remember kissing him goodbye as he went off to police football matches and riots, city centre riots and, yes, Orgreave. Having seen all that makes watching footage of assaults on police officers that bit more real. It is even more devastating when the person going home injured is one’s own father.
West Midlands police officers do a heroic job under consistent pressure to perform. Any assault on any police officer or PCSO is clearly totally deplorable, and those convicted of such assaults must expect a strong and lengthy prison sentence. Ever since the reforms of Robert Peel, we have policed by consent. It is right that the Minister reiterated what he said in the Adjournment debate called by Holly Lynch about the public having to
“understand that a police officer is to be respected and is there to serve the community.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 615, c. 283.]
Police officers are not there to stand by while they are abused and assaulted. Any use of force must be proportionate, but assessing that cannot be done with the cold rationalism of someone based in an office; it must be viewed from the standpoint of someone who genuinely feels that their personal safety and that of those around them is at risk.
During the summer recess, I did a night shift on patrol with West Midlands police around Dudley borough. The officers explained the difference that body cameras, 1,600 of which have been bought with co-funding from the Home Office, are already making as they get issued to all neighbourhood and response officers. Many Members will have seen the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology’s briefing from last year, which highlighted several benefits from the initial trial that have now been backed up by the experience in the west midlands. In fact, since the camera roll-out there has been a 10% increase in cases proceeding to charge, a 9% increase in early guilty pleas and, staggeringly, a 93% fall in complaints against police officers.