'Protect those, who protect us' - Emergency worker assaults must face tougher penalties
Labour MP, Holly Lynch, says the Government must offer better protection of emergency workers, calling for a change in the law so that assaults on our emergency workers face tougher penalties.
There are few jobs which require the same bravery and commitment as our front line emergency workers. While keeping us safe these people head into some of the most dangerous situations, and we have a responsibility to offer them all the protections we can.
I have been on shifts with police, fire and rescue, and paramedics in my constituency of Halifax and have seen the challenge they face from the small minority of people who put them at risk.
Last August I went out on patrol with a police officer in Halifax, who was out on his own as a single crew. During a routine stop, the situation quickly escalated and he found himself surrounded by an angry crowd. I became so concerned for his safety that I had to call 999 from inside the police car in order to request urgent backup.
In the police, most officers will tell you that they understand there are risks, but being a punching bag should never be part and parcel of the job. This week the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of their latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million (2,113,602) unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12 month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.
Over the last 3 years there were more than 1,500 reports of physical and verbal abuse against medics in the Yorkshire Ambulance Service alone and Fire crews are attacked on average 10 times every week showing that all our emergency services face shocking levels of physical risk.
Spitting is another daily concern for front line workers. I hosted an event in Parliament last week where two police officers told MPs about their experience of being spat at. While trying to apprehend a violent suspect they had blood spat at them which went into their mouths and eyes. They both had to undergo anti-viral treatments to reduce the risk of contracting communicable diseases. One officer had a false positive result for Hepatitis B and for 6 months until conclusive test results came through, he had to avoid physical contact with his wife and young children as he feared passing on the disease.
Emergency workers tell me that they have little faith in the criminal justice system to protect them from spitting and assaults. For example the latest official figures show that in one year 7,829 criminals were convicted of assaulting police officers, yet only 1,002 were sent to prison.
It seems clear that something needs to be done to better protect emergency workers and it for this reason that I am trying to change the law so that assaults on our emergency workers face tougher penalties.
My legislation would make certain offences, including malicious wounding, grievous or actual bodily harm and common assault, aggravated when perpetrated against a police officer, firefighter, paramedic, doctor or nurse in the execution of their duty. It would also require someone who spits at an emergency responder to provide a blood sample to rule out the risk of having transmitted a communicable disease, or face a fine and custodial sentence for refusing to do so.
This approach represents one part of the package of measures we need to see introduced to counter the rise in violence against emergency workers. Investment in body worn cameras and a restoration of the front line staff who have been cut since 2010 would also improve both safety and morale.
We have the best emergency service workers in the world. We have to do everything within our power to protect those, who protect us.
Holly Lynch is the Labour Member of Parliament for Halifax
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