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Police Officer Attacks: Urgent talks on Frontline Safety

by Mark Burns Williamson, West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner

Last month tragically saw the death of Thames Valley police officer PC Andrew Harper and my thoughts remain with his family, friends and wider colleagues during this truly awful time.

In recent times, there have been growing numbers of attacks on police officers and it brings home once again just how officers, staff and other frontline workers put themselves in harm’s way to protect us all and we should all be very, very grateful for that. I was really touched to read about members of the public who have made their appreciation known to officers across the country because it is so important we recognise what they do to keep us safe and the public support they have.

That is why I have voiced my support on many occasions for the Protector the Protectors campaign and the resulting Assault on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act which was passed in legislation last year which will need to monitored to ensure it is being appropriately applied in cases brought before the courts.

We need to continue to ensure that our officers and staff have comprehensive training and access to the very best equipment to protect both themselves and our local communities, and is why I have supported a number of business cases put forward by West Yorkshire Police to invest in things like Tasers and Body Worn Cameras for example. They are working to keep our communities safe and are confronted with difficult situations every day. They walk towards danger when others walk away, thinking and acting quickly to keep people safe…attacking them can never be seen as acceptable.

Policing is the ‘last line’ of defence, officers and staff can often be faced with significant and traumatic situations on a daily basis. It is crucial that their wellbeing is protected so they can continue to undertake key roles on our behalf and lead fulfilling lives. That is one of the main reasons I supported the Protect the Protectors campaign and hold regular meetings with the Police Federation, staff associations and unions to ensure we are doing all we can collectively.

My office has also been incredibly busy since the announcement of almost £3.4m that will see the creation of a dedicated Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) in West Yorkshire led and co-ordinated through my office.

It follows the announcement by the Home Office on 18th June 2019, which saw £35m provisionally allocated to Police and Crime Commissioners in 18 police areas. This is in addition to the £4.2m of ‘surge’ money already awarded to the county earlier this summer to help crack down on violent crime through targeted operations.

Violence Reduction Units will take a multi-agency approach, bringing together police, local government, public health, voluntary/third sector, community leaders and other key partners to help tackle violent crime and its underlying causes. They will be responsible for identifying the drivers of serious violence locally and develop a coordinated response to tackle them.

The confirmation that this money is coming to West Yorkshire to allow us collectively to further address issues of violent crime, is clearly a step in the right direction, albeit somewhat delayed and only at this stage for this financial year up until March 2020.

What is crucially important, however, is that there is a long term plan attached to this, which will ensure the longevity and sustainability of the programme, hopefully with continued dedicated resourcing beyond 2020, which will be essential in having the desired impact on reducing violent crime for the future and something I will be taking up directly with Government Ministers.

With this in mind, we will accelerate work with our partners in the coming weeks to determine exactly how the unit will be delivered and what we want it to achieve in a local context.

This will mean maximising the monies that we have been provided, identifying the projects and work that will offer the biggest impact and make a real difference here in West Yorkshire.

We will be considering the role that Community Safety Partnerships (CSPs) might play within each of their respective Districts and how we build upon some of the work and successes already achieved.

The Violence Reduction Unit will not just revolve around one element of violent crime, like knife crime, but will be used across all aspects. It will centre heavily on early intervention and prevention, bolstering many of the local projects which we have already and previously been engaged with.

We made it clear in our initial submission in establishing the VRU that improving the support provided to victims, as well as witnesses, close relatives and friends who may also be traumatised by what has happened to them, is a high priority and needs to strengthened throughout the criminal justice system.

We intend to work closely with our currently commissioned victim service providers and others, such as the NHS, to make sure that the unit has strong links with the analytical support available; and that lessons are learned to enable us to improve it and concentrate work and resources where they are most needed, to reduce all forms of violence wherever possible following the evidence and data gathered.

Taking into account the nature and types of violent crime, we will also be exploring various options, like restorative justice approaches, as well as the other forms of dedicated support available to help tackle violence in our communities head on, whether perpetrated against members of the public or police officers, which are both totally unacceptable.

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