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Police leaders condemn growing number of assaults against officers

POLICE leaders have condemned the growing number of assaults against officers and blasted those who film these incidents to share on social media.

Dyfed-Powys Police and South Wales Police experienced the biggest rise in assaults with and without injury in 2018-19 of Wales’s four forces compared to the previous year.

The dangers of work were brutally brought home in court last week when jurors heard how a policeman in Ceredigion was shot with his own Taser and sprayed with his own CS spray by two assailants.

Swansea Crown Court heard how one of the assailants shouted to his accomplice to “grab his baton and cave his head in” before the duo made off in a tractor and then a 4X4 and a car.

PC Dafydd Edwards suffered a torn cruciate ligament in his left knee, which was then stamped on during the incident in February.

The court heard that the constable had a prolonged period off work and that his career remained in the balance.

While such grave incidents are rare, five Dyfed-Powys officers are assaulted per week on average.

Chief Constable Mark Collins said: “We need to stop this.”

He said assaults had risen by 50% over the last two years – two-thirds of which were punching and kicking, and a third spitting.

The force covers four large rural counties and frontline staff numbers have been impacted by budget cuts since 2010.

“In the main we have single-crewed officers in cars,” said Mr Collins.

“We have got a number of officers who are trained in the use of Tasers.”

Mr Collins said research had shown that officers patrolling in pairs were more likely to be assaulted.

He has met his three fellow chief constables to discuss the use of Tasers and whether more should be made available.

Mr Collins also urged the courts to impose the maximum sentence when defendants were guilty of officer assaults.

“The deterrent must be stiff custodial sentences if we are going to stop it.”

Mr Collins said the Dyfed-Powys area remained the safest place to live and work in Wales.

But asked why he felt there were more assaults on frontline staff, he said: “I think respect for police is not what it was.

“The respect for law and order is not it was. I think society has changed in the way it views its police service.

“My officers and staff are more vulnerable. There has been an increase in alcohol and substance misuse which leads people to behave irrationally and out of character.

“There is more lashing out.”

One of PC Edwards’s assailants, Wayne Dobson, aged 29, of Watermill Close, Polegate, East Sussex, has been jailed for two years and nine months. He had pleaded guilty previously to inflicting actual bodily harm, vehicle-taking and criminal damage.

The other man, Darryl Dempsey, who fired the Taser, was described in court as “the instigator”.

The 24-year-old, of Brading Close, Eastbourne, East Sussex, had previously been deemed unfit to enter pleas to charges of making use of a firearm with intent to prevent arrest, inflicting actual bodily harm, driving while disqualified, the aggravated taking of a tractor and a Volvo XC70, the taking of a Range Rover, and criminal damage.

He was found to have committed the alleged acts by a jury and will be sentenced at a later date.

Mr Collins said officers did not want to be off work with injuries.

“Every officer who goes off on sick is taking away an officer from the frontline,” he said.

Asked if the public should intervene if they saw an officer being assaulted, he replied: “If you can help, please help – at least phone 999.

“The last thing you should be doing is recording it for social media purposes. That is pretty poor.

“PCs have body-worn video cameras. There is no need for another video.”

Steve Treharne, chairman of representative body the South Wales Police Federation, said he “absolutely abhorred” any recording of assaults for social media.

Mr Treharne also said he hoped the public would help in such cases, although he appreciated concerns about assailants potentially having weapons.

He felt Tasers were more effective than officers’ extendable batons.

“It’s the safest tool to ensure their safety and the person they dealing with,” said Mr Treharne.

“A Taser does not have to be physically discharged – the very presence of it and the red dot on the subject is often enough to de-escalate the situation.

“We would absolutely support the rollout of Tasers.”

He added: “But the biggest weapon is tactical communication – how you deal with someone to de-escalate a situation.”

Mr Treharne joined the force in 2001 and is still a serving officer, although his federation chairman role is full-time.

He said he counted himself fortunate not to have been on the receiving end of an assault.

“There are always going to be dangers with policing because that’s the nature of the work,” said the 50-year-old.

“However, what we are seeing is that the level of assaults is increasing.”

Mr Treharne said he would encourage all officers to report assaults to ensure the figures were as robust as possible.

“As a local federation, we send out a welfare gift voucher to any officer who gets assaulted,” he said.

“It’s just a little token gesture. That might go on to increase further reporting.”

He added: “It’s not just the physical injuries – they can recover a lot quicker than mental and psychological ones.”

Last November the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill was enacted, with maximum prison terms for people found guilty of common assault against officers doubled from six months to a year.

Mr Treharne cited a court case this month in Newcastle, in which a prison sentence against a woman who headbutted a police officer was suspended.

The judge said he recognised there would be some officers, if not the wider public, who “may be right” in thinking the assailant deserved an immediate jail term.

But he said he had to taken into account the wider consequences of any sentence he imposed, and was concerned it could cause the assailant to lose her job.

Mr Treharne said the bill enacted last year was all about increasing the seriousness of how such incidents were viewed.

“It’s not acceptable to be assaulted,” he said.

He added that policemen and women did a “remarkable job day in day out”.

Referring to recent budget cuts he said: “Over the last eight years the job has been tinged with difficulties, but it’s still entirely rewarding.”

Matt Jukes, chief constable of South Wales Police said the effects of attacks were also felt by officers’ colleagues and families.

“It is appalling when officers are attacked or threatened while protecting others,” said Mr Jukes.

“Police officers and staff are people, and committed public servants – not punchbags.”

He added: I feel it is important for me to write to every officer who is assaulted while on duty, and a common frustration I have encountered from those who have been assaulted is the perception that their case is not taken seriously enough.

“I hope the new legislation will help to change that and offer them extra protection from those who seek to do them harm.”

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