How Hampshire police is helping officers who are victim of assaults

Hampshire Police Federation chairman John Apter
Hampshire Police Federation chairman John Apter

Increase in complaints against Hampshire police

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If I find you are responsible for officers being assaulted, I will sue.

That was the warning shot fired by the man who represents rank-and-file police to then-chief constable Andy Marsh in summer 2014.

PC Steph Wheeler was hit in the face with handcuffs, injuring her teeth

PC Steph Wheeler was hit in the face with handcuffs, injuring her teeth

John Apter, Hampshire Police Federation chairman, was keenly aware the force was shrinking, potentially putting officers’ safety at risk.

And he knew bad practice within the force led to some of those he represents being asked to investigate crimes in which they had been the victim.

But now after a concerted effort from Mr Apter and assistant chief officer Nicole Cornelius, other forces are looking to Hampshire as setting the gold standard for the way it treats its officers.

Mr Apter said: ‘I wrote to the chief and I said to him there are a number of incidents I’m really concerned about: being deployed 
single-crewed, not enough Tasers, violent jobs where control room didn’t recognise the violence, with training issues.

There was one officer so badly assaulted she was in a hospital bed – she got sent a laptop to do her statement

John Apter

‘In the letter I said “If I find you’re culpable and in any way responsible for any of these injuries by virtue of not putting the proper care in place, I’ll sue you”.

Just last year the issue was highlighted when a man was jailed for assaulting PC Steph Wheeler in Gosport, cracking her front teeth.

He added: ‘It was really bizarre.

‘I was talking to some officers and they’d been assaulted, sometimes not seriously but other times quite seriously.

‘There was one officer so badly assaulted she was in a hospital bed.

‘She got sent a laptop to do her statement.

‘And I’ve heard of other officers who’ve been assaulted and then they’ve had to go and interview.

‘They were the officer in the case for the very job they’d been assaulted on.’

Mr Marsh agreed to establish a gold group, led by Nicole Cornelius and Mr Apter, and with input from the Crown Prosecution Service.

Its task was nothing less than a wholesale culture change, convincing officers and staff that being assaulted was not just part of the job.

But finding out the scale of the issue was a problem.

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary previously collated assault data but this work was moved to the Home Office and the figures were not published.

‘The first thing we recognised was the data was inaccurate,’ Mr Apter said.

‘You’ve got two systems that record assaults on officers, one which is self-reported health and safety.

‘You’ve then got the crime system which is really credible.

‘Which database do you think the Home Office get their data from?

‘The health and safety – just 20 per cent of assaults are on there.’

Last year, the Home Office published the data and it showed that 1,007 officers in Hampshire were assaulted in the year ending March 31, 2015.

The force has now revealed assaults have increased to 1,021 between April 1, 
2015 and February 29 this year.

Ms Cornelius said more officers are now more likely to record assaults.

She said: ‘I think it’s a combination of the unpredictable nature of policing and also I think of having raised the profile of police assaults.

‘Now we’re saying it’s not acceptable and we need to know about it.’

She added: ‘I see it as very much ongoing; we don’t think we’ve cracked this and completed it.

‘It’s something we’re going to be moving forward with and looking at different aspects.’

A PhD student is now researching assaults, looking at time of day they happen, whether officers are single or double-crewed.

The work is being done with the College of Policing.

But recording methods vary across forces, with Thames Valley Police – a larger force – recording just 158 assaults in 2014/15.

In an effort to make sure officers are treated better, Mr Apter and the force came up with a seven-point plan.

He was keen that police officers who are victims should be treated in the same way as the public. He has also secured more Taser.

The CPS has since agreed to have a person dedicated to assessing prosecutions.

Earlier this year Mr Apter met Baroness Newlove, Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales.

‘What she likes is the idea that a police officer who is a victim of crime, if they’re treated properly, they will treat victims better,’ Mr Apter said.

Since January, Hampshire police has also agreed to give in-house physiotherapy to injured officers due to NHS waiting times.

The work is continuing and looking at both how to prevent incidents and how to improve the force’s response.

Mr Apter added: ‘As a victim it’s the recognition that matters.

‘People have said to me “you shouldn’t be treated better than the public” – I’ve never said that.

‘But we need to be treated as well as the public are.

‘Up until this work started police officers were treated far, far worse.

‘It was quite contemptible the way that some of them were treated, really unfair and unkind, this is to bring everyone on a level playing field.

THE SEVEN-POINT PLAN

Assaults on officers should be investigated to the same high standards we apply to investigating assaults on members of the public.

The victim code applies to all victims, whether police officers and staff or members of the public.

The assaulted officer must never be responsible for investigating their own assault.

Victims recover better with the right welfare and support.

The officer’s supervisor must ensure that their divisional commander is made aware to provide continuity of welfare support.

The assaulted officer and their supervisor must complete an accident report.

To achieve a successful prosecution, the best evidence must be provided.