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Body cameras welcomed but tougher punishment desired for police assault

Suffolk police stock image. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Suffolk police stock image. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Archant

Body worn video cameras and tougher punishment for assaulting emergency service staff could be key to driving down attacks on police officers.

Stock image of body worn camera. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY Stock image of body worn camera. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

Suffolk Police Federation said the introduction of wearable cameras was a welcome move, not only for protecting officers from assault, but producing clearer evidence by the time cases get to court.

Meanwhile, government support has been given to a ‘Protect The Protectors’ bill, proposed by Rhondda MP Chris Bryant, to create a new offence of assaulting an emergency worker. It subsequently cleared the committee stage and could progress to statute by Easter.

According to a freedom of information request, the number of assaults on police constables in the execution of duty decreased over the last four years from 506 in 2013 to 363 in 2016. But the total was already 397 by the middle of this November, with fewer cases resulting in charges just 55% compared to last year’s 75%.

The total of assaults on constables dropped 25% between 2015 and 2016 (from 483 to 363) the year Suffolk police became the second force in the country to adopt the new Athena system of recording crime, which brought together areas of investigation management, including crime recording, intelligence and case preparation.

Police Federation chairman Darren Harris said: “I wouldn’t say there has been a notable increase or decrease, but the statistical drop could be down to Athena and issues over data protection. Occupation is an optional field when crimes are filed on Athena.

“The other factor is the specific charge of assault on a Pc. That only applies to some cases if an assault is worse, it will be recorded as actual bodily harm.

“I’d like to say assaults on officers are down, but I’d be wary of the statistics. The increase in 2017 could be a recent push on crime recording standards.”

Mr Harris, who was spat at on duty before becoming federation chairman, welcomed the roll-out of body cameras in the last quarter. More than 1,400 units have been spread throughout Norfolk and Suffolk so far.

“I would like to think they will help achieve a better conviction rate and sanctions against anyone who assaults an officer, because it will be clear for the courts to see for themselves,” he said.

“I’m sure it will have an impact on behaviour and evidence.”

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