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Killer commutes biggest risk to officer safety, finds NPCC

The journey to and from work is the biggest threat to officers, according to a major review of officer safety. The NPCC also called for more consistent training by all forces but made no assessment of costs.

Fatigue after long hours is a major factor in the risks officers face according to the safety review by police chiefs.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council research into officer safety revealed 80% of deaths involving vehicles occurred during the officer’s commute. It showed that between 2009 and 2019 there had been 39 such deaths across all forces. 

The Officer and Staff Safety Review (OSSR), called on Chief Constables to make the impact of long hours a factor in their planning.

It was among the 28 recommendations made including improvements to training by every force to enable officers to de-escalate confrontations with suspects.

The report also revealed that half of the officers who have been assaulted in the past year were custody officers.

Although body armour was judged to be fit for purpose, all 43 forces were urged to review equipment.

But the NPCC made clear it was up to Chief Constables to decide next steps, particularly on travelling to and from work.

The report team, led by Hertfordshire Chief Constable Charlie Hall, called on forces to “remain mindful of this ongoing business risk when formulating or reviewing any organisational policies around staffing levels, shift times, working hours, night duties and overtime”.

The findings had caught the senior officers and researchers unaware as the work was commissioned in September last year following the death of PC Andrew Harper.

It said: “Police data showing 80% of recorded vehicular deaths occurred during the officer’s commute to and from work in their personal car or motorcycle is a great concern.

“Commuting was perhaps the greatest threat to officer and staff safety identified by the OSSR, which is surprising given the roots and intended strategic direction of the review.”

The review highlighted that despite the risk being acknowledged in 2009 by two former policing management bodies  - the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) and Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) -  critical research into the problem was never completed.

The NPCC said: “More could be done not only to build the base of evidence in this area, but also to raise general awareness of this risk to police officers and staff, especially those doing shift work.”

It warned all 43 forces would have to resolve the issue with the Police Federation – but gave no guidance on how they should do this or any potential cost implications.

“The project team strongly encourage the resumption of this vital piece of research. The project team also encourage each chief officer to liaise with their respective federation and staff association leads, who have been raising awareness of this risk for some time and, as such, are in a good position provide advice and guidance and to enhance organisational awareness among the workforce,” it said.

The 146-page report also found inconsistent training levels among the 43 forces with Norfolk and Suffolk singled out for providing just five hours of safety training for each officer each year. A survey conducted by the College of Policing as part of the review found a third of officers were dissatisfied with the safety training they receive.

Body armour for officers was judged as being fit for purpose but there was a warning from NPCC Chairman Martin Hewitt that increasing the provision of Tasers would not alone lead to a drop in the number of assaults on officers.

“Officers should not become over-reliant on Tasers. Tasers are not without their drawbacks, they are fallible,” he said. “These can lead to injuries to officers, injuries to the public and to the suspect themselves.”

He also made clear that Chief Constables are “very resistant” to an increasing the number of officers carrying fire arms. It would “fundamentally alter the nature of British Policing”.

The Police Federation has called for forces to make Tasers more easily available to frontline officers and support for less lethal weapons remains strong. The College of Policing found 85% wanted more to have access but there was less strong support for the idea that all frontline officers need a Taser (61%).

Forces have been urged to look at improving training in de-escalating tactics so that Taser, spray and other weapons remain a last resort. The team said this was particularly critical for resolving controversy around stop and search. A national curriculum and conflict guidelines will be issued by the College of Policing.

“There is some tentative evidence to suggest that aiming or red-dotting with a Taser may resolve conflict and that officers might be more inclined to use a Taser to manage conflict rather than their non-physical skills to de-escalate,” the report said.

“There is also growing evidence to suggest that Tasers are being used disproportionately on people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.”

Despite making 28 recommendations, the report gave no estimate to cost and Mr Hewitt warned there is “no pot of money” to fund it. There were also no milestones set.

National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Officer and Staff Safety and Kent Chief Constable Alan Pughsley said: “We’re concerned by the rising numbers of assaults against officers and staff and have worked to make sure this review can quickly deliver improvements for them.

“Work to implement the recommendations of the review has begun at pace, even throughout the current pandemic. With the support of government, chiefs and staff associations, we have the commitments in place to make a positive difference for everyone within policing.”

But the representatives of frontline officers and staff signalled they would need more convincing.

Vice chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales Che Donald warned the review could become “just another door stop”.

“Chief officers must now take swift action to implement all immediately, so they are meaningful, make a tangible difference and are directly felt by officers on the ground,” he said.

UNISON national officer for police staff Ben Priestley said: “It was vital that the interests of frontline police staff, such as police community support officers (PCSOs) and custody and detention officers, were properly covered in the review.

“Proposals to record assaults on police staff in the future are a welcome step. Many PCSOs have made clear their protective kit is inadequate, so a recommendation for each force to review the safety equipment it provides is a positive move.”

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