West Yorkshire’s PCC calls for greater protection for emergency workers (2 Nov 2017)

Attacks on emergency workers is something that is hard to fathom. Thinking that those who work to protect you daily and nurse you back to health are being spat at, punched, pulled and abused daily, is something that any right minded member of society would baulk at.

But that is the reality for many. Police officers, nurses, firefighters, paramedics, prison officers, those working in search and rescue, anyone who is working to keep you safe.

To then find they are running towards danger only to be abused is something that I strongly condemn and is why I support West Yorkshire's Fire and Rescue Service campaign More than a Uniform.

The campaign is delivering a zero tolerance message in the run up to Bonfire Night and is trying to ensure you see the person behind the uniform.

The Police Federation's campaign Protect the Protectors delivers a similar message.

We need to collectively ensure there is an awareness and education around what is happening to our emergency workers and ensure people, in some instances children, understand the consequences of such actions.

Working with partners including schools and local authorities to get on board with the awareness raising campaign so people understand there is a person behind the uniform and they are there to keep you safe, not to be the focus of attacks and abuse.

As Chair of the Tri-Services (Police, Fire & Ambulance) Collaboration Board, I know the incredible job that emergency workers do running towards danger as they try to keep our communities safe and feeling safe.

I raised this issue at a previous board meeting around attacks on police officers and firefighters and we will look to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at the next board in November between West Yorkshire Police (WYP) and West Yorkshire Fire. The MOU will outline what action WYFRS can expect WYP to take following an attack on staff.

In Parliament in October the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill had its second reading and it is hoped the Bill will get on the statute book by next year if the Government chooses.

The Bill would make it an aggravated offence to assault emergency service workers.

It calls for tougher sentences for attacks on emergency workers, increasing the maximum sentence for common assault from six months to a year if staff are attacked while on duty.

As well as tougher sentences, it would also force anyone who bites, spits at or attacks an emergency service worker to undergo blood and / or saliva tests.

Halifax MP Holly Lynch was instrumental in bringing this Bill to Parliament following her own experience being out with the police and witnessing a volatile situation and I applaud her for her actions in bringing people together and raising the awareness and bringing action to try and stop it.

The debate outlined the Home Office's own figures that stated 24,000 assaults on police officers in England and Wales in 2016-17. It is unacceptable and that is why I wholeheartedly support this Bill.

As MP Tracy Brabin mentioned in the Second Reading of the Bill, I fully support that PCSOs who find themselves in challenging situations, are also included in the Bill.

I agree with the comments that PCSOs are a vital part of community policing and should have the same protections as all emergency workers.

To hear from MPs about stories in their constituencies where officers are attacked while trying to keep communities safe is just harrowing.

The police officer's wife who tells his children he has fallen over a bin chasing someone or walked into a door because he doesn't want them worrying about how he sustained his injuries.

The firefighter in Bradford just days ago as crews were attending a fire in the open in Bradford and fireworks were thrown at them.

A firework hit a firefighter in the stomach and despite not receiving serious injury he has had to take time off work. As a consequence firefighters are now attending incidents in this area with a police escort.

How can this be the reality our emergency workers face?

Along with the West Yorkshire Fire Authority and many MPs, I know the importance of this Emergency Workers Bill is to strengthen legislation in order to deliver tougher penalties for attacks on emergency service personnel.

There has to be a deterrent and I fully support the zero tolerance message because those thinking of committing these despicable attacks need to know the consequences and consider the recklessness of their actions and that they will rightly face strong action and prosecution.

So this Bonfire Night, I urge people to stop and think about what emergency workers, police officers, firefighters and paramedics do to keep us all safe. How they run towards danger when the first instinct is to run away from it and how they save lives every single day.

And how we owe them so much and protecting them from harm has to be our priority.

© Copyright West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner 2019