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Police Officer Safety

Part of Community Pharmacies – in the House of Commons at 6:42 pm on 2nd November 2016.

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Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing) 6:42 pm, 2nd November 2016

I join the whole House today in wishing the officer who was stabbed in Lancashire a very speedy recovery. I also add my congratulations to my hon. Friend Tracy Brabin on her moving and poignant maiden speech. She has done the memory of Jo, her constituents and this House proud by her contribution today. She also made me cry.

In this place, we make the laws, but we depend on police officers to go out into our communities and enforce them. This relationship places a special duty on us all in this place, and indeed in the Government, to ensure that police officers can do their job safely and free from fear of attack. As demonstrated by the horrific stories that we have heard today from my hon. Friends the Members for Halifax (Holly Lynch), for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones), for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), and for Ogmore (Chris Elmore), all too often we are failing in that special duty.

I was particularly affected by the story told by my hon. Friend Jessica Morden of the clumsy daddy. Nobody should have to experience that level of violence in their job and then have to lie to their children in that way.

A couple of weeks back, as I do every possible year, I attended a memorial service for PC Nina MacKay, who was attacked and stabbed 19 years ago when she went to arrest a wanted man in his home in my constituency. Her wounds were fatal. She was just 25 years old—a young woman with her entire life ahead of her, murdered as she went about her job.

Although police officer deaths are mercifully rare, almost all officers are violently confronted at some point in their careers. I have been looking at the case logs of attacks on police officers in the London borough of Westminster, to see the situation faced by the police working in the borough in which we sit. There have been 80 attacks on police officers in Westminster since May. Of these, 22 were classified as actual bodily harm and five as grievous bodily harm. The vast majority of the attacks were on the streets of Westminster, a few were in residential premises and 14 took place while the perpetrator was in police custody. I know that there were 80 attacks in Westminster since May because the Metropolitan Police Service has kept what are called the Operation Hampshire databases for each borough since April. Every time a police officer is attacked in London, there is now a strict protocol.

The incident is recorded as a crime and registered in the human resources log. A welfare officer—that is important—an investigation officer and someone from the senior leadership is immediately notified of the attack. The attacked officer is kept up to date with the progress of investigations. Most importantly, they are provided with welfare support, someone to ask how they are and provide support if it is wanted or needed. The process is designed to ensure that officers know that an assault on them is taken as seriously as an assault on any member of the public. Experiencing violence should not be accepted or expected as part of their jobs. They should not be considered second-class victims.

I was told by one officer about an attack that he endured when he was a young man and new to the police. It was long before these new protocols were even thought of. He was surrounded by a group of men. They punched him, kicked him and spat at him. He was shaken up. I can imagine that it frightened him, and it certainly dented his confidence. When he got back to the station the very next day, his colleagues congratulated him on a job well done and on the fact that he was in for the night shift, but one boss had the emotional intelligence to come to him, ask why he was there and encourage him to go home and spend the night with his family. He told me, “It was the smallest thing, but it was the most important thing.” I hope that officers in London are receiving that small but important thing now that Operation Hampshire is in place. If an officer in London is attacked, the protocol ensures that there is welfare support. They will not have to rely on the judgment and kindness of one decent boss.

Welfare care is important, but so is recording. We are told that there were an estimated 23,000 assaults on police officers in England and Wales last year. As we have heard, this is a number that we can have absolutely no confidence in. I have been told that it is not much better than a back-of-an-envelope job. The Home Office says that it has

“worked with police forces to try and improve the data further”,

as the Minister reiterated today. However, I heard him say only that he wants to add an additional category of assault with an injury to the recorded crime data. I would like him to go further—he is not a bad man. I want him to ask all police services to adopt the comprehensive and systematic approach taken by the Metropolitan and Hampshire police services. The Hampshire approach includes recording every incident in human resource logs, and integrating data collection with welfare provision. As my story of that young police officer shows, good systems are not just about collecting data, but about offering support.

Proper recording of assaults may give us a better idea of the scale of the problem we are facing, but it will not reduce the number of attacks. For that, Government action is necessary, so I come to sentencing. The Police Federation has raised concerns that a man who punched a police officer in the face and kicked them to the floor received just a 12-month community order. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax highlighted a case where a man assaulted four police officers, gouged their eyes and inflicted serious injury. He received only a two-month suspended sentence. Will the Minister commit to reiterating to the Sentencing Council, which I obviously respect the independence of, the seriousness with which we in this place treat attacks on police officers?

It would be wrong of me to speak on this matter without acknowledging the substantial cuts the police have had to absorb since the Conservatives came to power. There are 20,000 fewer police officers in the United Kingdom than in 2010—a reduction of 11.7%. My right hon. Friend Andy Burnham told us how this is really stretching services in Greater Manchester, as it is elsewhere. That thin blue line has been getting thinner and thinner.

The cuts are leading to under-reporting by the public as their confidence is dented, as mentioned by my hon. Friend Justin Madders. There are concerns that the cuts are also leading to an increase in single crewing, which may well make police officers—particularly at night and when responding to emergency situations—even more vulnerable. But there are no reliable statistics on the amount of single crewing each police force is undertaking. We do not know definitively whether it is becoming more common and in which situations it is used. We do not know whether it has made officers more vulnerable to attack. PCCs and the Home Office need know the answers to these questions if they are to make informed strategic decisions and, most importantly, keep our officers safe from unnecessary danger.

Today, we have had calls for the Government to improve the recording and reporting of these attacks. The Minster has been asked to work with the Sentencing Council to ensure that appropriate punishments are meted out. He has also been asked to look at the way police cuts are stretching our services. I hope that he will take these requests seriously and act on them urgently. Our police officers deserve to know that their welfare is paramount.