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Eight police officers per day assaulted

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Over the last five years, eight police officers per day on average were assaulted while on duty. This is a stark reminder of the difficult situations and challenges that officers’ face every day while simply carrying out their job. 

Superintendent Gary Busch from the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Operational Support Department said: “In 2022/23, we had 3,272 assaults on officers reported to us. It’s important to remember that these are not just statistics but they represent real people with families and they don’t deserve to be assaulted just for just doing their job. 

“We, as a Police Service, are committed to investigating these attacks rigorously, just as we would were it a member of the public. From today, Monday 4th March, the Chief Constable will provide a statement to case files where officers or staff have been assaulted while on duty, to highlight how these incidents impact both the individuals involved, and the Service as a whole.”

“The assaults on police ranged from being spat at, head-butted, kicked, punched and having missiles thrown at them.”

‘The worst bit was the toll it took on my family’

An officer based in Derry City and Strabane received a burn to his arm during disorder in the city last year. Disorder broke out during searches where detectives from the Terrorism Investigation Unit (TIU) recovered military grade items in the Creevagh Heights area. Sixteen officers were injured, including a local Neighbourhood officer.

The neighbourhood constable said: “During the disorder, a petrol bomb bounced off the side of one of our trucks, before striking me on the arm. I was taken to hospital for treatment to second degree burns and nerve damage which meant I was off work for a month. The worst bit of the whole thing was the toll it took on my family. Thanks to the welfare support in the service and support from my friends and family, I am now back to full duties.”

Superintendent Busch said that assaults add pressure to an already stretched workforce: “Assaults on our officers and staff place additional unnecessary burden at a time where our resources are already stretched with declining officer numbers. The last thing the service needs is officers not being able to finish their shift due to injury.”

‘We’re just trying to make a difference’

In December 2023, a Newry-based officer was head-butted by a man she was escorting into police custody – the extent of her injuries resulted in a concussion.

The local policing sergeant recalled what happened: “It came as a complete shock to me. All I remember is feeling his head on mine and then seeing stars. I count myself lucky, it could have been much more serious had he got from the front of my head. 

“I’m still recovering from the assault, I had pain in my head for two weeks and am still dealing with the mental impact. These type of attacks are not acceptable, we are not human punch bags. We are doing our best to make a difference to the communities we serve.”

These incidents have the potential to seriously injure our officers. Superintendent Busch commented: “These examples show just two of the 15,230 incidents reported of officers being assaulted since 2019. Each of these incidents have the potential to have a long lasting impact, both physically and mentally, on the individual. 

 “Despite this, they continue to do their job, serve their community and keep people safe. Police officers should never be taken for granted, they do a vital job and whilst we come to work knowing we could be faced with difficult and dangerous situations, it is completely unacceptable that we should be physically attacked.

“Our priority is the safety and welfare of all our staff and to ensure support is available when it’s needed. Assaults on police pose a serious threat to the vital service police provide and we will continue work with the Police Federation for Northern Ireland to support our officers. 

“Our message to those who think this behaviour is acceptable, it is not; it should not be seen as ‘part of the job’ and we will pursue those individuals and bring them before the courts.”

The Chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI), Liam Kelly, said: “Assaults on our officers and staff are totally unacceptable and take a heavy toll on our men and women. We are not society’s punch bag or a release valve for those who seek to impose themselves and harm and intimidate others. 

“The rate of assaults on officers is worryingly high with official crime statistics recording a total of 3,272 assaults in 2022/2023 of which 971 involved injury.  This equates to a rise of 7.6% from the previous year in the injury category. There is also an element of internal under reporting so the real levels could be significantly worse. 

“Stronger, no-nonsense sentences handed down by the Courts would greatly assist to deter would-be attackers. We would appeal to the Justice Minister to move at pace on increased sentencing guidelines in support of both our officers and our emergency service partners. 

“Our officers do not deserve to be targeted in this manner for simply doing their job. They work tirelessly on behalf of this entire community and any assault on them should be viewed as an assault on society overall.”

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