Concerns about public perceptions 'greater than concerns about officer safety'
Frontline officers who volunteer for public order work are becoming increasingly concerned that their safety is being compromised in order to prevent negative public perceptions of the policing of protests.
Speaking at the annual conference of the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW), national chair John Apter said there is a growing frustration among colleagues that bosses are more concerned about “how it looks to have officers in riot kit, rather than the safety of the officers”. He said: “I will always fall on the side of the safety of colleagues.”
The session on the policing of protests also heard from Sergeant Nikki O’Malley, of the Metropolitan Police Service, who was left bloodied after being attacked at an anti-lockdown protest in Hyde Park earlier this year.
Speaking about the incident she said: “We were attacked. We had no public order kit. There was lot of questions about why we were not kitted up. Some of my colleagues have lost family members to Covid and were being attacked over people having to wear a mask. That was tough. Some officers had sick family members at home.”
Sgt O’Malley said the public need to be educated so they know that when they see public order kit, there isn’t necessarily going to be a riot.
Inspector Kim Brown, a Bronze commander with Cumbria Constabulary, also contributed to the session, to say officers are likely to be deterred from public order policing unless more pre-emptive work is done to educate the public that officers in public order kit, does not indicate there will be conflict.
However, Chief Constable Andy Marsh, of Avon and Somerset Constabulary, said the violent events which took place in Bristol earlier this year – including an incident in which an attempt was made to set fire to an occupied police van – had the opposite effect. “We have seen an increase in people volunteering for Level 2 work,” he said.