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February 25, 2010

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Rise in assaults on police

More than 17,000 police working days were lost in 2008/09 as a result

of assaults on officers in England and Wales — a rise of 11.2 per cent

on the previous year.

The total of 17,055 days lost is the equivalent of a 75-person reduction in the number of police officers in England and Wales, according to the Liberal Democrats, who compiled the research. They also found that 78,276 working days have been missed by police officers owing to assaults between 2004/05 and 2008/09.

Commenting on the figures, the Lib Dems’ shadow home secretary, Chris Huhne, said: “These startling figures show just how difficult the job of being a police officer can be. Violence is clearly all-too common on our streets, when thousands of police working days are being lost as officers recover from assaults.

“Every effort must be made to try to get injured officers back to work as quickly as possible, even if that means lighter duties, or paperwork.”

Simon Reed, vice-chair of the Police Federation for England and Wales, said the figures may only be “the tip of the iceberg”, pointing out that police officers do not always report assaults, as they see them “as part of the territory” of the job.

He said police occupational-health services are not really focused on the problem, and most forces lack facilities. However, he is hopeful that lessons can be learnt from a major piece of research the Federation is currently carrying out in partnership with Bill Lewinski, a behavioural scientist specialising in law enforcement-related issues.

Explained Reed: “The research is looking into officers’ safety training from a behavioural and psychological perspective. It’s really trying to understand the signs where someone might become violent, and how the officer and the individual might behave in such situations. It’s crucial that we understand that and learn from it.”

Nick Cornwell-Smith, chair of the Association of Police Health and Safety Advisors, agreed that police forces “must continue to provide suitable and sufficient training in conflict-resolution management to ensure that front-line officers and staff can identify potential situations and deal with them safely”.

He continued: “Allied with this is the provision and use of PPE, such as helmets and body armour, which are fit for purpose. The impact of the wider issue of TASER and the levels of assaults on officers needs to be carefully reviewed to see if assaults on police officers reduce.”

Getting injured officers and staff back to work quickly is also paramount, according to Cornwell-Smith. He elaborated: “The role of occupational health in supporting the return, even on a recuperative basis, is important, and many forces support this.

“Investment in physiotherapy and use of the police treatment centres pay dividends in getting experienced officers back on duty. Financial support to help pump-prime these activities would be money well spent.”

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