63 police officers are assaulted in England and Wales every day. Four in 10 police officers fear they will be subject to violence when they go to work.
From Brighton to Birkenhead. From Bradford to Billericay. From Bodmin to Bangor.
When a bad guys wants to attack a police officer, do you think they take into consideration where that officer is based and what force that officer works for?
No of course not – and yet it can be revealed that the amount of refresher safety training officers receive every year is a postcode lottery – with the amount of entirely dependent on where officers are based.
Some officers get as little as six hours’ training every year, while some get 20 hours, a Freedom of Information Act request has revealed.
So why are forces giving their officers such a varying degree of safety training? And why is there not a national standard that all the country’s cops receive?
“It can’t be right that the quality of your officer safety training depends on where you work – this is not acceptable,” said John Apter, Chairman of Hampshire Police Federation, who is campaigning for officer assaults to be properly recognised.
“I have raised my concerns with Alex Marshall, CEO of the College of Policing. This is something he has the ability to improve which will benefit many officers. This is about investing in officer safety – something every force should welcome.”
The College of Policing sets standards for the learning, delivery and assessment of personal safety training across England and Wales based on the 2009 ACPO Guidance on Personal Safety Training.
That document states – in bold – that “as a minimum, forces must ensure that staff receive assessed refresher and development training on an annual basis, unless an auditable risk assessment clearly identifies why this frequency is not necessary for a particular role.”
It gives no minimum time amounts for officers to receive. Or indeed a recommended set time. And it seems forces have taken that as an excuse to wildly vary what they provide to their officers.
Of the 40 forces that responded to the Freedom of Information request, officers in Cambridgeshire Constabulary are given the most safety training at a maximum of 20 hours – although even here the figure can be as low as four hours a year depending on the role of the officer.
After Cambridgeshire, City of London and Staffordshire Police provide the most safety training at 16 hours per year.
They are followed by Cleveland, Derbyshire, Devon and Cornwall, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, the Met, North Wales, Northumbria, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Surrey, Sussex and Warwickshire on 12.
At the other end of the scale, with six hours’ refresher personal safety training are Dorset, Essex, Hampshire, Lancashire, Norfolk and Suffolk. They are followed by Cumbria on 6.25.
Norfolk and Suffolk’s six-hour training plan is broken down into 4.5 hours of protected personnel safety training, 20 minutes job-related fitness test, 30 minutes additional input by PSU and a 40 minute break, according to their FOI response.
County Policing Commander Chief Superintendent David Skevington said: “Officers receive extensive training to reduce the likelihood of them being victims of assault.
“As part of their initial training they receive at least seven days’ worth of personal safety training, which includes tactical communications training, how to position themselves at an incident to minimise the risk of harm and how to use all their personal safety equipment appropriately.
“Additionally a common thread throughout all their training is the correct way to calm situations and improve their communication skills to prevent such an assault from taking place in the first place.”
Personal safety training for police officers is key. Some 23,000 police officers were assaulted in England and Wales last year. That’s more than 440 a week and 63 a day.
And in a recent survey of 17,000 police officers by the Police Federation of England and Wales, it was revealed that four in 10 police officers fear they will be subject to violence when they go to work.
The survey also showed that 35% of officers surveyed experienced unarmed physical attacks (eg struggling to get free, hitting) at least once a month and 6% experienced use of a deadly weapon (ranging from bottles or stick to firearms) at least once a month.
Half the forces who replied to the FOI provided under the average figure of 9.5 days safety training per year. One of those is South Yorkshire, which provides eight hours of training.
Neil Bowles, Chairman of South Yorkshire Police Federation, said better personal safety training could help protect officers when they are assaulted by an offender.
He said: “We really do need to identify the exact problem before we can come up with solutions. Better and more frequent personal safety training rather than cutting it down like our forces are at the moment, reducing the amount of days you have to do it.
“[Officers need] self-defence skills like any sort of physical skill, you need to build muscle memory to do the certain actions, if you only do it once a year you just don’t remember to do it when you need to in a street fight.”
Mr Apter added: “We have adapted our own local training to be more realistic and therefore relevant for our officers but the six hours our officers receive is simply not enough.
“I want a national standard set by the College of Policing which will allow forces to enhance the training they provide which will give officers the skills to help them to protect themselves.”
The College of Policing were asked what could be done to ensure consistent training throughout England and Wales in terms of time and content. They were also asked whether too little training was putting officers at risk, and whether forces are doing enough to properly equip their frontline officers with the skills they need to deal with violent suspects.
In a statement, College of Policing lead for uniformed policing, Richard Bennett, said: “Police officers place themselves in danger every day to protect the public and any assault on an officer is unacceptable.”
He added: “Officer safety training is focused on police officers achieving specific goals in terms of the acquisition and demonstration of skills in self-defence and restraint, rather than on receiving training based on a mandatory time frame.
“This means officers are trained in safety to the same high standard regardless of where they are across England and Wales. The training is also flexible so police forces can teach officers how to use the specific protective equipment they are issued with and address any particular local policing concerns.
“We know police continue to face threats and the College of Policing is funding research on officer assaults with Hampshire Police to make sure safety training is based on the best available evidence.”