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Officer fatalities 'worst in years' says HMI

Officer fatalities during lockdown were the worst in recent years, according to the policing watchdog. HMI said more must be done to support officer wellbeing.

More must be done to acknowledge the impact of the job on officers and their families, HMI has warned.

In his annual assessment of policing in England and Wales, Sir Thomas Winsor paid tribute to the officers who were killed during 2020.

He called on forces and the government to acknowledge the impact of trauma on officers and their loved ones.

But the report, which reviewed all policing activity during the past year, made special mention of the officers who died last year.

Sir Tom paid tribute to Sergeant Matt Ratana was fatally shot in the Croydon custody centre, Police Constable Matthew Lannie lost his life as a result of a road crash and Special Constable Resham Singh Natal of West Midlands Police died at home while recovering from injuries he sustained when hit by a car.

“With three such deaths to report, this year has been the worst in recent years,” he wrote.

He also used the report to raise awareness of officer and family welfare – a prompt at a time when the Police Covenant is progressing into law.

He said: “When officers lie awake, unable to dispel what it is they have seen, and they withdraw into depression and worse, then their families suffer too, as they try to support and cope with the effects on their own loved one.

“All police officers, whether full-time, part-time, or special constables, as well as police community support officers, police staff and some other volunteers, face risk every time they come to work.

He added: “For many of them, and their families, living with the risk is a way of life: an unavoidable and accepted part of the job of keeping other people safe.

"In many respects, policing is a dangerous job. It is incumbent upon all of us to be mindful of that and to do what we can to help those who help us.”

There was also backing for warnings from senior officers that forces cannot police their way out of society’s problems.

Sir Tom said fixing the health and social care system must happen to reduce pressure on the criminal justice system.

The pandemic has intensified vulnerability for certain people, and combined with failing public services, this has increased demand on the police, the review concluded. 

Sir Tom described how crime patterns have changed over the last year due to the pandemic, with more crime committed online and said there is a case for greater sanctions in the Online Safety Bill to protect vulnerable people online.

The Chief Inspector said the pandemic had also increased vulnerability in other ways, such as the lockdown leading to more calls for help from those suffering from domestic abuse. 

In what will be seen as a challenge to the Ministry of Justice, he questioned why waiting times have become inexcusably long when the number of cases going into the system is at the lowest level for decades.

Sir Tom said the people most capable of solving the problems were not frontline officers, specialists or even Chief Constables but politicians in Westminster.

“For policing to be effective, the wider criminal justice system and other public services must also be as effective as possible. If they are not, many more people may be drawn to crime, enter into cycles of offending, become victims, and lose confidence in policing,” he said.

“I am disappointed on behalf of the public that so little has been done to fix the perilous state of the criminal justice system and failing mental health services. The government’s next spending review will provide an opportunity to put right many of the problems in policing, and the other public sector agencies must do much more to match the commitment of the police service to protecting people from harm.”   

He rounded off with strong advice for ministers that what they do next will impact on what they can ask of officers whose ranks are still below the levels before austerity.

Sir Tom said: “There is a considerable degree of goodwill in the police, in making sacrifices – personal and otherwise – to protect the public, deter crime, disrupt criminal networks, apprehend criminals and make communities safer. Nothing should be done which might jeopardise that.”

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