COVID-19: 'Virus used as weapon' against police as 80 officers assaulted per day - including spitting

·3-min read

COVID is used "as a weapon" against police officers, as the number of assaults against constables is estimated to have reached almost 80 per day nationwide.

Information gathered by the PA news agency found that 7,537 assaults against officers, constables and volunteers were recorded in the three months between 23 March and 23 June this year.

This suggests there could have been 29,000 attacks over the course of 12 months - or 79.5 per day.

But the data only came from 31 out of 43 forces across the UK - indicating the number could in fact be higher.

Cambridgeshire Constabulary recorded the highest increase in assaults against its staff when compared to the same period in 2020.

There were 128 cases in the three months in 2021, compared to 58 the year before. In 2019 there were 41 attacks.

Chief Constable Nick Dean said members of the public were "using COVID as a weapon" by spitting at this staff.

"Here in Cambridgeshire, we probably have around about one assault to a police officer or police staff per day," he said.

"The nature of assault can really range from very serious to what we can class as lower-tier assaults such as being pushed or kicked, or what is very prevalent - being spat at.

"None of that, at any level, is acceptable within policing."

One officer was attacked so badly by someone suffering with mental health issues that they were left with a bleed on the brain - and out of action for the rest of the year.

CC Dean says a rise in mental health problems over the pandemic, and an increasing number of protests over issues like climate change and Black Lives Matter, have contributed to the larger number of assaults.

"People are suffering much more from mental health and wellbeing issues, which have clearly increased during the lockdown, and the restrictive periods and in society in general," he said.

"I think the opening up of the night-time economy with drugs and alcohol prevalent within that environment is also an issue of why we've seen an increase.

"We've equally seen, as we can't hide from the media, in terms of protest activity and the number of protests we've seen in the capital and in major cities, or indeed here in Cambridgeshire, has increased dramatically.

"Since restrictions (were first imposed) we've seen other protests around climate change, Black Lives Matter - all of which put us at the forefront of managing large events with the potential of confrontation."

Incidents are also more likely to be recorded than when he was starting his career in the 1990s, he added.

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Overall, the data showed a 21% rise in assaults in 2020 compared to 2019, with a similar level recorded in 2021.

There were 7,294 assaults recorded from 23 March to 23 June in 2020, compared with 6,036 over the same period in 2019.

After Cambridgeshire, Dorset Police (80%), Merseyside Police (41%), and Avon and Somerset Police (40%) saw the largest rises in 2021.

A similar number of forces saw a decrease in attacks.

A National Police Chiefs' Council spokesman said: "Police officers and other emergency services workers should not have to face violence, abuse or threats of any kind. It is not part of the job.

"They are trying to help the public, serve their communities and save lives. It's not acceptable, and with the support of the Crown Prosecution Service we will not hesitate to prosecute anyone who uses violence against front line staff."

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