‘Troubling rise’ in assaults on officers despite drop in recorded crime

Despite an overall fall in recorded crime in the past month there continues to be “a troubling rise” in assaults on emergency workers.

Jun 2, 2021
By Paul Jacques
Martin Hewitt – National Police Chiefs’ Council chair. Picture: PA

Assaults were up 26 per cent in the four weeks to April 11, according to latest figures from forces in England and Wales.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said the rise is thought to be driven by increases in common assaults on police officers, including suspects spitting on officers while claiming to be infected with Covid-19.

NPCC chair Martin Hewitt said the assaults were “unacceptable”.

He said: “The number of assaults against emergency workers continues to show a troubling rise. We will use the full force of the law to prosecute anyone who uses violence against those who are on the front line.

“Officers and staff are out in communities, working in challenging circumstances, and I am grateful for their continued hard work.”

Police recorded crime is nine per cent lower than the same period in 2019, but Mr Hewitt warned that crime levels are likely to return to pre-pandemic levels in the coming months.

The latest figures are compared with the equivalent four-week period in 2019, rather than 2020. The NPCC says this is to allow comparisons with a more normal time-period, since the national lockdown in place at the same time last year (2020) was associated with notable reductions in demands on the police.

Throughout the pandemic, sustained falls in crime have been recorded in periods of national lockdown, with crime only rising close to 2019 levels during the summer months of 2020, said the NPCC.

The third national lockdown introduced on January 6 this year saw a large reduction in recorded crime as individuals were told to stay at home, allowing criminals less opportunities to commit offences.

For the most recent recorded four-week snapshot, serious violent crime, including grievous bodily harm, actual bodily harm and personal robbery, reduced by 15 per cent, shoplifting was down 41 per cent, vehicle crime fell by 32 per cent and residential burglary was down by 34 per cent compared to the same period in 2019.

Although there was a 13 per cent rise in rape offences compared with the same four-week period a year earlier, the NPCC said this is a “low volume offence”, and it was too early to say whether this represents “a significant change from previous trends”.

Recorded domestic abuse incidents were one per cent higher over the snapshot period compared with the same period in 2019.

The NPCC said police continue to monitor this area closely while working in partnership with relevant organisations. The figures do not capture “hidden domestic abuse” that is not reported.

Mr Hewitt said: “The fall across most of these figures, compared to 2019, shows that we’re still seeing the impact of lockdown, despite the further easing of restrictions in May.

“That said, we are anticipating crime levels to return to pre-pandemic levels in the coming months, as we did across the summer in 2020.

“As we approach the final stage of the Government’s roadmap and all restrictions are lifted, all forces have robust plans in place to deal with any upturn in crime, including violence, and will clamp down on violent offenders.”

Mr Hewitt said as well as day-to-day policing, to prevent and tackle crime and keep communities safe, it continues to work alongside partners both locally and nationally in tackling the pandemic and limiting the spread of the virus.”

“We encourage the public to continue to support us in our efforts to prevent the further spread of the virus,” he added.

Forces have also continued to observe falls in calls to police. Compared with the same period in 2019, 999 call volumes decreased by seven per cent and 101 calls by 15 per cent.

The national absence rate for officers and staff also remains low at four per cent.

Responding to the latest figures, John Apter,  national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “We have seen a consistent increase in violence against emergency workers during the pandemic with the vast majority of these assaults being against police officers. At the same time other crime types have fallen.

“This increased level of violence is not just a one-off. It is becoming the new norm which is completely unacceptable. Violence in our society is not just a policing issue, all parts of government and society itself must work together to combat this alarming increase. Part of this is ensuring those responsible for attacking police officers face a suitable deterrent in court.

“The sentencing guidelines have been changed, so we need judges and magistrates to use these powers to set an example to those who are assaulting our colleagues, those responsible must spend time in prison. This unjustified violence is a stain on society and needs to be dealt with robustly.”

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