‘Deplorable’ rise in assaults against officers during lockdown

The chief constable of North Yorkshire Police has condemned the ‘deplorable’ rise in assaults against officers and staff during lockdown.

Aug 21, 2020
By Paul Jacques
Chief Constable Lisa Winward

Lisa Winward said assaults have risen by almost 60 per cent in North Yorkshire during the Covid-19 lockdown period and they “absolutely cannot, and will not, tolerate that”.

Police officers and police staff have been punched in the head, bitten, spat and coughed at, kicked, scalded with hot water, headbutted and had their eyes gouged – all within the past few months.

Ms Winward said offenders show a “deplorable attitude to those who are making great sacrifices to serve their communities”.

The chief constable also vowed that anyone who assaults a North Yorkshire Police worker will be “dealt with to the full extent of the law”.

North Yorkshire Police Federation is urging the courts to use their “full sentencing powers” to send out a clear message and deter would-be offenders.

Since lockdown began in late March, 87 assaults against North Yorkshire Police officers and staff have been reported – a rise of 58 per cent from the same period in 2019, when the number was 55.

In the past month alone there have been 21 reported offences. The figures cover police officers, police community support officers, custody personnel, police staff, Special Constables and volunteers.

North Yorkshire Police said some of the incidents that happened in the past month include:

  • Six officers punched in the face during different incidents, with at least two suffering black eyes and facial swelling;
  • An officer’s hand was bitten, and two other officers were bitten on the knee, all during separate incidents;
  • An officer was kicked in the side of his head;
  • An officer having to attend hospital for tests after someone spat in their eye. Several other officers were spat on during separate incidents;
  • An officer who was headbutted in her nose, causing injuries; and
  • An officer being stabbed in the hand with a pen in a custody suite.

Ms Winward said: “Throughout the pandemic, officers and staff across the force have being showing a level of commitment, diligence and professionalism that is nothing short of incredible.

“Some colleagues have made significant personal sacrifices so they can continue to serve the public, such as not living with their families. Many have put their own anxieties aside, as they face difficult or potentially dangerous situations head-on. All have stepped up to the mark to help deliver an exceptional level of policing, right across North Yorkshire.

“So these assaults reflect a deplorable attitude to those who are making a great sacrifice to serve their communities.

“As well as being hugely distressing for the victims, they are also damaging to communities who are appalled by the warped mindset of those who attack people that work so hard to keep others safe.

“We absolutely cannot, and will not, tolerate that. It’s sickening and it’s wrong. If you assault an emergency services worker, you will be dealt with robustly to the full extent of the law. It’s that simple.”

North Yorkshire Police has steps in place to support victims and ensure cases are thoroughly investigated with a view to prosecuting offenders under laws made to protect emergency services personnel.

It said many of the cases currently involve criminal charges and ongoing court proceedings. A number of offenders have already been sentenced, with many receiving immediate prison sentences of a year and more.

North Yorkshire Police Federation Secretary, PC Brad Jackson, said police officers and staff have played a very important role during the pandemic, and strong sentences can help to protect them.

He said: “North Yorkshire Police Federation is incredibly proud of our members professional response and dedication to serving our public during the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, we have continued to see incidents of abuse and violence against our officers.

“The Federation campaigned nationally for the introduction of the Emergency Workers (Offences) Act, which carries a punishment of 12 months’ imprisonment for anyone found guilty of an offence against police officers and emergency personnel.

“We urge the courts to do the right thing by using their full sentencing powers so that the law provides the deterrent and punitive effect it was intended to.

“The Federation will continue to work with North Yorkshire Police and campaign to ensure our hardworking brave members are protected by the law and reinforce the message that society will not tolerate the appalling abuse and violence our members face on a daily basis.”

At the start of lockdown, the Director of Public Prosecutions made it clear that anyone who coughs or spits at emergency workers and claims they have Covid-19 should face an assault charge.

The Crown Prosecution Service used this guidance to prosecute more than 300 cases of assault against an emergency services worker nationally in the first month of lockdown.

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