The aim of the discussion was to help raise awareness of the aims and objectives of Op Hampshire, to understand the issues that are affecting our colleagues and to listen to suggestions for improvement. Director for Oscar Kilo, the National Police Wellbeing Service (NPWS) Andy Rhodes and the National Op Hampshire Coordinator Dave Brewster were on hand to respond to questions and views.
The three questions posted were:
- Q1: There are around 100 assaults on police officers and staff reported across England and Wales every day – in your experience, do you think this is a accurate figure? What would give people more confidence to report assaults at work?
- Q2: All forces now have an Op Hampshire SPOC – are you aware of this in your force and do you know how to access support or raise issues locally? What could we do to ensure that this filters through to the entire workforce?
- Q3: We’re constantly developing our work around Op Hampshire and building support for forces to make the process of reporting assaults and implementing follow ups and support easier. What is important to you? What would you like to see more of?
Below, Chief Inspector Dave Brewster gives us his thoughts on the conversation
This was my first WeCops session and incredibly interesting. I was buoyed by the clear support from contributors, it’s clear that people are starting to hear about Op Hampshire and that the main areas for concern are already on our radar. In this blog, I will attempt to provide an overview of what we are trying to achieve and why.
Op Hampshire is a project bringing improvements in our response to assaults on police officers and staff. It is based on principles created by John Apter from the Police Federation during his time with Hampshire Constabulary. Those principles have been developed into a comprehensive strategy including leadership, wellbeing, investigation, criminal justice, and organisational learning. The model has been identified as good practice by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and College of Policing and is being driven forward by Oscar Kilo (NPWS).
The most recent 12 months figures show that there were around 37,000 assaults on police recorded in the UK an increase of 20-25% on the previous year. It is essential that we have a meaningful response to these incidents to ensure officers and staff are supported as victims of crime.
The culture around police assaults is challenging and it involves an ingrained mind-set. We provide a service to the public, that service often calls for us to face confrontation and violence on their behalf and therefore it can be argued that being assaulted is an occupational hazard. For many however that has become “part of the job”. This is something we really need to change from within. We absolutely have to start from a position that being assaulted is not acceptable. If it were there would not be legislation to cover it. As one contributor tweeted last week: it is the difference between “expecting” and “accepting” the assault.
What’s the point? This is something that I have heard on many occasions up and down the country. There is sadly a level of despondency among our colleagues particularly where the lower end of the assaults scale is concerned, those assaults considered as “minor”, a term I try to avoid and will explain why later. Current sentencing for these lower end assaults, very often receive what is considered minimal or even no additional sanction at court. Victims often wonder what all the effort was for. Why did they lumber their colleague with three hours of paperwork and months of memos and follow-ups only to see the offender walk out of court with a £50 fine?
My response to this is that we have to be part of the solution. As I responded to one tweet last week “we cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater”. The CJ process starts with us, we have to report offences to ensure that we understand the fuller picture, we have to pursue justice for our colleagues, and we have the right to be treated as a victim. If we dismiss this point ourselves then we are throwing the towel in. If your home was burgled and but nothing stolen would you still report it? Of course, you would.
Many contributors to the session were concerned by the lack of deterrent and sentencing issues. It is totally understandable, it is something that is being looked at but we have to consider what we can realistically influence. In my view, this is a long game. We need to change our culture, we need to provide the best evidence we can to the CPS and we need to convey the impact of assaults on our colleagues through well-crafted victim personal statements that are presented with meaning. I am confident that we will get the message across but it takes time and we have to be the initiators otherwise we are letting ourselves and the public down.
But the CJ element is only one part of the Op Hampshire response. Our colleagues deserve to be supported. Reporting an assault should set in motion a series of actions to ensure the wellbeing of our colleagues. Even those incidents that are considered “minor” or “without injury”. It is about understanding the impact.
Impact versus injury: In my experience, I have seen incredible levels of support to colleagues who have been seriously injured, and rightly so. There have been some horrific life changing attacks on colleagues over the years and we absolutely have to respond to the highest standard. However, what cannot be lost is the fact that around 65-70% of assaults are without injury. Because of the nature of the role, the majority of those assaults will be concentrated on frontline policing. This means we have colleagues being repeatedly assaulted in some cases six times or more in a 12 month period. The potential impact and effect of repeat victiminsation cannot be overlooked. We all react differently and have different levels of tolerance. We are only human.
The fact that an assault did not result in an injury is irrelevant to whether support is offered and provided. As an example let’s consider spitting. A vile offence and one which I have experienced personally. When an offender spits in the face of a colleague that in itself is appalling but let’s expand on this. Let’s consider whether the offender claims to have some kind of communicable disease, the spit contained blood perhaps, the victim may then have to go tests and start a course of anti-viral medication for six weeks. The anxiety of waiting to hear whether you have contracted an illness, have you passed it on to a loved one, the nauseating effects of meds, etc. These all add up, they all have an “impact”. Technically this would be recorded as an assault without injury but the effects are often greater.
The impact of every assault should be considered. We have to have a starting point to work from and a process that ensures we don’t miss that one incident that can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Even if an assault is dismissed by a colleague we should also consider our role in society. Is it right to ignore an assault on the office of constable and those that support it? What does that say to the public or to the next suspect who fancies their chances?
Op Hampshire does not create anything groundbreaking, on the face of it, it is not rocket science, it is about doing the basics well, every time. That is the front end of things. However, for this to success it needs direction and commitment. Every UK force has signed up to Op Hampshire through the NPCC officer & staff safety review and it now features as a priority in the new Police Covenant which Andy Rhodes is leading on.
As a result, a single point of contact has been identified in each force to lead on the development of their Op Hampshire processes. This means taking that senior level of commitment and ensuring that the systems and processes in force filter through to the front line so that supervisors are equipped and supported to deliver the basics. But it needs to be championed, we need advocates to push the message and there is no limit on who can do this. Believe in it, it is about you and your colleagues, it is about our profession.
Some contributors suggested introducing Op Hampshire training to supervisors and reps. This is something that already exists and we have been providing sessions for a number of forces but not all. We will be working with colleagues in Lancashire to create an online training pack which will hopefully be made available to other forces later next year. In the meantime there is advice and guidance available on the Oscar Kilo – Op Hampshire web page.
Prevention and the bigger picture: A subject raised by a couple of contributors was the need to understand the causes and what can be done to prevent assaults in the first place? Understanding the scale of the issue and identifying trends is essential. We have been working to develop an assaults reporting app that if successful will be available to all forces. This is a simple process to capture the key information for every assault and allow us to have a greater understanding of the issue. A national level of assaults detail is not something that is readily available and this work could be a game changer for improvements to training, kit, equipment, and policy for UK policing.
The bottom line: Op Hampshire does create some additional work for people but the effort is worthwhile. We are not creating a victim culture, we are not showing weakness, we are not asking for special treatment above and beyond that provided to the public. What we are doing is trying to provide the care, support, and justice that our colleagues deserve. That is not something to apologise for, it is simply the right thing to do.
I genuinely believe that the men and women among our ranks and roles do an incredible job. They do the things that many could not or would not do. They face some of society’s most volatile and unpredictable situations and they do that in the knowledge that they may get hurt. We have our detractors of course and always will but the vast majority of the public are grateful for the thin blue line. We are there for the victims but occasionally those victims include us. It is simply about providing a service so that the same standards of victim care apply to the men and women that provide it for others.
Op Hampshire now sits as a priority for the Police Covenant which gives the initiative longevity and helps keep Op Hampshire firmly on the agenda. This is testimony to the influence of people like Andy Rhodes and John Apter among others. Now with the support of Andy Marsh at the College and through the PFEW and NPCC we have a real opportunity to improve our support to our colleagues.
It is a privilege to continue to be part of this work and I am grateful to everyone that has helped us get to where we are today.