PC Rachel Alcock’s day at work ended in hospital. The PC arrived at Worcester A&E for an x-ray on an eye socket and cheekbone that were both swollen and tender after she had been punched several times in the face.
Thankfully, there were no broken bones. Not this time anyway.
Three weeks later, Rachel was still suffering from bruising to the affected areas. The GP told her it would probably take another two weeks before she fully recovered.
Another assault on another police officer. Another statistic. Rachel is undoubtedly not alone.
Incredibly, during a national pandemic when officers like her are on the front-line offering protection to the very people who are attacking them, the numbers of assaults are on the rise.
Figures released in June showed that while overall crime rates in England and Wales has fallen by 18 per cent in the four weeks until 7th June this year, when compared with the same period last year, attacks on emergency service workers had increased by 24 per cent.
It paints a grim and worrying picture.
Rachel joined West Mercia Police in September 2010 as a CSO and then became a PC in January 2012. She is currently based in Evesham on patrol.
“When I was 10-years-old, I attended a police station open day, and I became intrigued about the role they played within the community,” Rachel explained.
“As I grew up, I learnt more about the role the police had in protecting the public and decided to study law. I felt that there was a huge range of opportunities to develop within the Force and couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”
On 15th May this year, Rachel attended an incident where a member of the public was suffering from mental health issues, and the family had reported concerns for their welfare.
“I was aware I was attending an address where a male was believed to have become aggressive as a result of mental health issues so requested another double crew to attend shortly after,” said Rachel.
“On arrival, it was clear that he was suffering with paranoia.
“Communication was extremely difficult, and he admitted to not taking his medication for psychosis. I believe he required an assessment and posed a risk to himself. The ambulance staff present were in agreement too.
“After lengthy negotiations with the man, we assisted the ambulance crew who detained him due to his lack of capacity and escorted them to the mental health suite.
“When we arrived there, he became agitated and wanted to leave, which he did, despite our best efforts.
“We caught up with him and had no option but to detain him under the S136 Mental Health Act.
“He tried to leave and run away from us and headed for a nearby main road. As we tried to restrain him, he became physically aggressive, throwing a number of punches at us making contact with our faces, as well as pulling both mine and my colleague’s hair.
“We managed to detain him on the floor and handcuffed him, but he continued to kick out. I requested assistance, and we continued to detain him until other officers arrived. In the end, we got control of the situation using emergency restraint belts to prevent any injury to himself or other officers.”
By this stage, Rachel had swelling and bruising underneath her eye and cheek area and went to Worcester A & E with colleague PC Goodman, who had also been hit in the face.
“I was seen by a doctor and a consultant, and with substantial swelling to my right eye and cheekbone and bruising appearing, they suspected I had a fracture, and I was sent for an x-ray,” said Rachel.
“There was no fracture but, a few days later, I had a black eye with bruising down the left-hand side of my cheek and underneath my jaw on my neck.
“It was painful at the time, and due to the swelling to my eye, I had to take a couple of days off. Then, when I returned to work, I spent a few days in the office to avoid any further injury.
“Since going back out on the street, members of the public have asked me about my injury. There is a general consensus of the public showing concern that officers are being assaulted and worry that this may not be going through the usual court process, due to the circumstances surrounding the pandemic.
“From my experience in the job, I am aware that these situations happen and have been involved in violent and aggressive incidents previously, including one time when I was punched under the jaw.
“I have no doubt this sort of situation will arise again in the future too.
“Again, my instinct as an officer will be to stop the person because that’s what we do, protect people from harm.”
And what of the man who assaulted her – and those officers like Rachel – who are getting injured daily?
“After being assaulted, I arrested him. However, I am aware that once he was in our custody at the station, he was seen by the mental health team, and I understand he was sectioned,” she said.
“Because he was sectioned and deemed not to have capacity, no criminal action will take place against him, as far as I am aware.”
The bruising, swelling and tenderness on Rachel’s face will eventually go down, but the mental scars of 15th May are likely always to remain.
While officers are protecting members of the public, who is protecting them?
Sarah Cooper, chair of West Mercia Police Federation, has already raised concerns about the number of officers being assaulted in the line of duty at a strategic level.
She explains: “It can never be accepted that an officer comes to work, to serve the public and gets attacked doing so,” says Sarah, “It is even more worrying, at a time when police officers are on the front-line protecting communities and the NHS from a deadly virus, that some people think it is OK to attack, spit at and cough in the face of brave emergency service workers.
“Nobody should have to put up with being assaulted during a day’s work. It is only right that the people who carry out these abhorrent crimes are brought to justice. Unfortunately, all too often, the feedback I am getting is that charging decisions and sentences at court are woefully lenient.
“In my view, a strong message needs to be sent out through the criminal justice system that these offences against our officers will not be tolerated. Currently, officers are often left feeling unsupported and let down by a system that does not appear to treat these offences seriously enough.
“We also need to understand and address the significant number of officers who are attacked by individuals suffering mental health crisis. Unfortunately, it would appear that the police are, once again, taking the brunt of other under-resourced public sector services and this is not acceptable, particularly when colleagues are being injured in the process.
“It is apparent that a review is needed in relation to the role of police and the use of powers in these mental health situations. Incidents such as this should not be occurring, yet they are all too common.”
Sarah aims to contact every West Mercia officer who is assaulted personally, and it is clear that these numbers are increasing.
New figures show that in 2018/19 there were 538 assaults on West Mercia front-line officers alone, including Special Constables and PCSOs, with the number for 2019/20 rising to 659.
In the first three months of this year, one in fifteen police officers were assaulted.
West Mercia PCC John Campion has called for an urgent change in attitudes and behaviour as officer assaults increased by almost 20 per cent in 12 months.
Mr Campion said:
“Violence against police or anyone within the emergency services is never acceptable.
“We, as a community, have been standing on our doorsteps during the COVID-19 pandemic clapping our key workers, at the same time as assaults against emergency workers are increasing. We need to recognise the long-lasting impact that these assaults can have and that it’s vital that this toxic behaviour, displayed by a minority, is challenged.
“I want to send a clear message to those who attack our emergency workers that we, as a community, will not tolerate it, and the perpetrators will be brought to justice. I will continue to highlight and challenge assaults on officers as part of my commitment to deliver a safer and more secure West Mercia.
“We must do all we can to protect those who protect us.”
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