Over the last few weeks a number of worrying clips have surfaced showing police officers being assaulted while making arrests, or being injured in the line of duty, and receiving no help or assistance from bystanders.
Nowadays everyone has a camera to hand and many of us document our lives and share it with our friends and online communities. There is nothing to stop a member of the public taking a photo or video of a police officer, and nor should there be. There have been many instances where footage from the public has helped to solve crimes or made police forces and individual officers reflect on how a situation has been dealt with and enabled them to learn from it.
Nevertheless, these recent incidents make me uneasy because it is clear that the filming isn't being done to help the officers, but rather to glorify the assaults being committed on them. You'd be hard pushed to find another profession where members of the public would film someone being punched, kicked or spat at, while carrying out their daily duties, and others find it acceptable.
Police officers experience some of the highest levels of repeat trauma of any workforce yet they wake up every morning and do it all again. Their training, camaraderie and adrenalin helps them to do this, but also the realistic belief they have that if they are harmed we will be there to pick them up again. ‘We’ being their colleagues, the rest of the policing community and also the public. If instead they are assaulted and ridiculed by people they are ultimately trying to help, this adds a deeper dimension to an already traumatic experience. It also chips away at their confidence in the greatest strength of British policing - the relationship with the public.
We rely on the public to provide us with information, work with us, engage with us and most importantly trust and support us. These recent incidents and assaults are a relatively small number of cases amongst many more kindnesses from members of the public and examples of real bravery so officers should not feel unsafe. Nor should they feel the need to retreat from the millions of day to day informal interactions they have with the public as through these interactions they can change someone's life or capture that one piece of vital information in a case.
Imagery is powerful and it can change behaviours, for the good and the bad. We should be thinking and talking about this issue because we don't want to sleepwalk into this becoming a norm.
I think there a real difference between filming an incident because you feel the police are behaving badly, or because it's a newsworthy event, and filming a police officer who is being assaulted while trying to protect you. If you are ever in situation where a police officer is being assaulted or abused, please think about the impact of your response on them. I'm not encouraging people to be heroes or put themselves in the line of danger. But think whether there's something you could do to de-escalate the situation or call for our help or check they are ok. And phone footage shared with the police could help to build a case against the attacker. It would mean a lot to those individual officers.
National Police Chiefs' Council Lead for Organisational Development and Wellbeing, Chief Constable Andy Rhodes