We have a duty to act to keep police officers safe on our streets
To assault a police officer is to show a complete disregard for law and order, our shared values and for democracy itself, says Holly Lynch MP.
The ‘Protect the Protectors’ campaign was born out of a terrifying experience I had whilst out shadowing West Yorkshire Police in my constituency. Thanks to Chris Bryant’s Private Members’ Bill we now have a chance to deliver the law changes we need to keep our emergency workers safe.
Last summer, the Police Federation told me about their concerns that reductions in police numbers, which in the West Yorkshire force amounts to a 20% loss in frontline officers since 2010, were resulting in more officers being out on their own – singled crewed. Officers working alone are being asked to attend often dangerous situations and are inevitably more vulnerable. They are consequently experiencing an increase in assaults against them while on duty.
Whilst shadowing PC Craig Gallant of West Yorkshire Police, single crewed, I saw for myself just what they are up against. A routine vehicle stop, wanted in connection with drug offenses, quickly escalated and he found himself surrounded by an angry mob. He was forced to draw his baton and locked me in the police car for my own safety. I was so concerned that I rang 999 from the Police car in order to call for urgent back-up.
Following that incident I secured an Adjournment debate to share what had happened with MPs and to urge the government to better protect officers from the rise in assaults. From this, and with support from the Police Federation, the Protect the Protectors campaign was born.
We police by consent in this country. It’s a relationship based on trust where the police are the public and the public are the police. In any democracy, elected members of the public set the laws and we ask the police to go and enforce them.
To assault a police officer is to show a complete disregard for law and order, our shared values and for democracy itself.
Sentencing must reflect that. Since launching the campaign I have heard countless stories of horrific attacks on Police officers. They report feeling an injustice twice; once at the hands of the violent offender and again in court where sentencing is felt to be unduly lenient. So the campaign has aimed to secure two things. Firstly to create new aggravated offences with tougher sentences for those who assault an emergency worker whether that is a police officer, firefighter, paramedic, doctor or nurse. This would act as a deterrent and help push a cultural change in these services so that assaults are better reported and no longer seen as just ‘part of the job’.
It would also put in place more protections for emergency service workers who have been spat at which is becoming increasingly common. It would become a requirement for the person who has spat to provide a blood sample in order to assess whether they have any potentially dangerous communicable diseases for which the emergency worker would need to take anti-viral treatments.
The campaign was given a huge boost this year when Chris Bryant MP was drawn at No 1 in the coveted Private Members Bill ballot. The winner of this ballot essentially wins time in the chamber to present a bill. Chris put six ideas to the public in an online poll and adopted the Protect the Protectors campaign after it topped the voting. The 2nd Reading of the bill will take place on Friday 20th October so please support the bill and join the campaign to #ProtectTheProtectors.
Holly Lynch is the Labour Member of Parliament for Halifax
This article was first published in the Labour Conference edition of The House magazine. The Police Federation have responded to Holly Lynch's article, saying: "The British police service is the best in the world but we can't take that for granted; the level of resilience is dropping." Read their full response here.
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