When I became the Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police, there were a number of things that were very important to me.
One was, of course, to ensure that we provide the best possible service to the public of Wiltshire; but another was to do all that I can ensure that officers and staff, who face increasing demand and more complex challenges with less resources than ever before, were given the right kit, training and support to ensure they were protected and safe whilst carrying out their roles.
I know that the Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson shares my view on this, and has been fully supportive in ensuring this happens.
The fact of the matter is that, whilst it is very important to say that Wiltshire remains one of the safest counties to live and work in, increased public confidence in the police has meant that we have increased reporting and more accurate recording of violence in our societies and, as a result, more awareness of these crimes. Whether that is violence in public or in private, this starts to build a concerning picture of a more violent society.
In addition, serious and organised crime and those people who are engaged in this type of criminality are more resourceful than ever before and the threat of terrorism is ever-present in our communities.
It is therefore quite right that I continue to review and assess the threat, risk and harm that the public, and my officers and staff, face on a daily basis. Every day, brave and dedicated officers and staff face difficult, demanding and sometimes dangerous situations that the majority of the public thankfully may never have to witness or deal with.
As Chief Constable, I made the decision that I would personally speak to any officers and staff who had been assaulted or injured on duty when protecting our communities. As I write this column, I have six e-mails in my inbox notifying me of officers and staff who have been injured in recent days.
I find my conversations with these officers and staff inspiring but very concerning, as it really does bring in to sharp focus the dangers we face. It is not just about the injuries they sustain; but it is incredibly concerning to hear about the terrifying circumstances they can sometimes find themselves in and how they feel at that moment in time.
While those in public service may run towards danger when others run away, that is no reason to believe that assaults are an accepted part of the job, or an ‘occupational hazard’ of being a police officer or police staff member.
They are criminal assaults which should attract appropriate sanction from the criminal justice system which should be delivered swiftly and commensurately with not just the injuries sustained, but the incredible fear my colleagues can sometimes face. Those who put their own safety on the line to protect the public should not have to deal with unacceptable assaults or attacks.
So back to where I started – I, as the Chief Constable, must do all I can to ensure police officers and staff are trained, equipped and supported to deal with these situations when they happen.
During my time as Chief so far, and supported by the PCC, I have increased our resources and capacity within our occupation health facilities, and now deliver compensation directly to officers and staff who are awarded compensation by the courts following an assault, instead of them waiting months to receive it from the person who assaulted them. I have also made a commitment to increase officers and staff protective equipment so they can protect themselves better.
I now have 800 body worn cameras which will be deployed to my operational officers and staff so that we can more accurately capture evidence of criminality, which includes abuse and threats to my officers and staff.
In closing, it’s important to again reiterate that Wiltshire generally remains a very safe county to live and work in. I am incredibly proud of my force, and of each and every officer, staff member, and volunteer who works hard every day and does an incredible job to protect the public. I hope you are proud of them too.