Alcohol places a significant and unnecessary strain on emergency services and the extent of alcohol abuse by the general public has created a culture of fear in the police, new think tank research has concluded.
Research by the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) found that 78 per cent of police officers and 65 per cent of ambulance staff feel at risk of drunken assaults from members of the public.
The IAS surveyed more than 4,000 serving officers; three out of five of those were of constable rank and 398 ambulance staff.
The survey concluded that between a third and a half of all emergency service personnel had suffered sexual harassment or abuse at the hands of intoxicated members of the public, with three quarters of police respondents, and half of ambulance respondents, stating they had been injured in alcohol-related incidents.
The Government estimates alcohol-related harm costs society £21 billion per year, around £11 billion which relates to alcohol-related crime.
The IAS report, published on October 26, says the figures should serve as a wake-up call to policymakers and the general public.
The survey indicates that later opening hours have created a huge strain on police officers, with many of those questioned calling for a return to earlier closing times for pubs, bars and nightclubs.
The IAS recommends the introduction of minimum unit pricing for alcohol and “duty escalator” system which incentivises producers to promote lower strength drinks.
Responding to the research, the Home Office said minimum unit pricing will remain under review while legal developments and the effect of the policy in Scotland are monitored – legislation introducing minimum unit pricing was passed in June 2012. It has not yet been implemented due to a legal challenge led by the Scotch Whisky Association.
Policing Minister Mike Penning said: “Any assault on a member of the emergency services will not be tolerated, and offenders will feel the full force of the law.
“The Government will build on the Alcohol Strategy launched in 2012 to tackle alcohol as a driver of crime, while working with partners at a local and national level to reduce the impact of alcohol misuse on emergency services.”
Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales Steve White said you would be lucky to find a single police officer who hasn’t been assaulted in some way while dealing with the people spilling out of pubs and clubs at closing time.
“What used to be a problem confined to the weekend has grown into a Thursday, Friday and Saturday night phenomenon of hardcore drinkers causing chaos on the streets. With the few remaining officers stretched to their very limit, the Government must act.
“We keep getting told that the police service is there to cut crime and cut crime alone – well, if that is the case then what are we doing in town centres late at night filling the gaps left by cuts to other emergency services?”.
Katherine Brown, Director of the IAS, said: "Our report shows how alcohol takes up a disproportionate share of emergency service time. Many of these incidents are preventable, and alcohol therefore creates unnecessary problems for front line staff, increasing their workload and preventing them from dealing with other important issues. Police officers we spoke to would far rather be dealing with burglaries than Friday night drunks.
“We call on the Government to better support our emergency services and implement policies to ease this burden, such as minimum unit pricing for alcohol. Local Authorities could also do more by using their licensing powers more proactively, such as trying to bring forward extremely late closing times where needed.”