The safety and mental well-being of police officers have become subjects of national concern.
The Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) annual conference highlighted an unsettling trend: officers increasingly opt to face assault rather than employ force in self-defence, fearing potential misconduct charges.
Paul Mathews, PFEW Conduct and Performance Lead, conveyed this worrying trend at the conference.
He stated, “When you look at the 2020 regulations, they were all enacted around fairness, proportionality and the independence of legally qualified chairs, and that took out any political alliance, any pressures to get to a determination.”
But Mathews’s concern isn’t without context. Statistics reveal a disturbing upward trajectory in assaults on police officers in England and Wales.
In the year leading up to March 2023, a staggering 41,000 officers faced assault.
While this figure saw a marginal decline from the previous year’s 41,730, it remains the highest recorded since data collection began in 2015-16.
Over the past five years, there has been a 20% surge in such assaults.
To offer perspective on these numbers:
- 2022-23: 41,000 assaults
- 2021-22: 41,730 assaults
- 2020-21: 36,697 assaults
- And the list extends back, each year showing a consistent climb.
These figures highlight that the rate at which police officers in England and Wales are assaulted surpasses the national average for all workers, drawing attention to the extraordinary risks they face.
Mathews further elucidated, “Now, we have 110 officers assaulted every day. But people are choosing to be assaulted rather than use force because ultimately they can be then found wanting in the gross misconduct arena in which now, if the Home Office bring in these regulations, you’re looking at automatic dismissal. That can’t be right.”
However, it’s not just the physical threat that concerns officers.
The bureaucracy and possible biases within the process of determining misconduct weigh heavily.
Delays plague this system, with cases often extending over multiple years, a point Jones drove home: “We often see headlines of cases taking 2,3,4 or5 years and there’s an individual behind all of this.”
John Bassett, President of the National Association of Legally Qualified Chairs, highlighted the potential consequences of the proposed changes to the conduct regulations.
He said, “If chief officers should have the ultimate responsibility decision on whether to dismiss or not…in those circumstances, how are you going to ensure there is an open, transparent and fair process in place?
“Because if the ultimate decision has been taken by a chief officer who can effectively ignore the legal advice they’ve been given, can effectively ignore the decision has been made by the majority of the panel, in those circumstances, I don’t see this process passes the test of fairness to anyone, whether it’s the public in general, or police officers individually.”
This confluence of heightened physical danger and potential administrative biases paints a concerning picture for the future safety and efficacy of the police force.
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