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Conference overview - Day 1

  • Posted On 17 May 2017

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    West Midlands PC Mike Bruce gave a powerful account of a horrific incident in which he and colleague PC Alan O'Shea ended up with an offender's spit over their faces and underwent months of uncertainty as to whether they had contracted any illnesses during a session at yesterday's national Police Federation conference in Birmingham.


    Earlier in the day West Midlands Chief Constable addressed conference giving his views on the challenges faced by policing and the West Midlands Police Federation deputy secretary Tim Rogers led a break-out session on the legal risks faced by police drivers.

    Policing minister Brandon Lewis, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott and Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, also addressed delegates on the first day of the national conference at the ICC.

    While the overall theme of conference was Protect The Protectors, echoing the Federation's current campaign on officer assaults, topics covered on the opening day on Tuesday also included modern slavery, police pursuits driving and discipline.

    The mental well-being of officers was also a strong theme throughout the day.

    In the opening session of the day which was based on the Federation's welfare survey, Che Donald, the organisation's national lead for mental health, explained that 60 per cent of officers say there is insufficient time to deliver a service to the public that they can be proud of.

    A survey of more than 16,000 officers also found that 39 per cent suffered from work-related stress and 66 per cent thought their work load was too high.

    Almost all respondents (94 per cent) considered that failure to meet minimum officer staffing levels had a ‘major’ or ‘moderate’ effect on their ability to meet demand.

    The vast majority of those who completed the survey (90 per cent) admitted to working on one or more occasions while not well enough physically.

    Mr Lewis was booed by delegates for claiming that crime has fallen by a third at the same time as officer numbers have dropped by 20 per cent.

    Before that ignominious end to his speech, he had paid tribute to the 'best police force in the world' and said that if anyone attacked an officer, they should face the 'full weight of the law'.

    Ms Cooper said much more needed to be done to help police do their job.

    “We have lost over 20,000 police officers since 2009,” she said. “And we still do not have the resources to make sure the police can do their jobs.”

    She also made strong reference to the recent HMIC report which identified deficiencies in neighbourhood policing and IT issues across the board as every force struggles to deal with the huge increases in cyber crime.

    The testimony of Merseyside police officer James Ellerman highlighted the debate around the position of the law with regards to response and pursuit driving and what can be seen as ‘dangerous’ in the eyes of the law in an early afternoon break-out session.

    Then, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, delayed because she was announcing the Labour Party’s General Election manifesto, came under fire for her scepticism towards spit guards when she took to the stage.

    “I have been looking at the evidence in relation to spit guards and I continue to look at that evidence,” she said. “I’ve never said I’m against them in principle but like any fresh  equipment or power I want to see the evidence of what they would do, particularly in relation to the health risk.

    “Among the groups that I have consulted with are groups who represent those with Hepatitis C and those with HIV, and they argue that you don’t catch Hepatitis C or HIV from being spat at. It’s about looking at the research and coming to a view.”

    Those comments led to criticism from the conference floor and also from Che Donald.

    “Not only was she ill-informed, she was ill-advised and for some of those comments I stood with my mouth open because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” he said.

    The first day ended with a very emotional discussion on the Protect The Protectors campaign that has been driven nationwide over the last three months.

    West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart highlighted a number of cases in which officers were assaulted and spat upon and declared that police officers were now 'society’s punch bags' and there is 'no deterrent'. He concluded: “Something has to change. Why is it so hard to protect police officers?”

    Prospective Parliamentary candidate Holly Lynch was warmly received by delegates for her work to highlight these issues in Parliament and said: “An assault on a police officer is an assault on society and it is unacceptable. If you are not safe, then our communities will not be safe.”

    On Wednesday, Amber Rudd and Federation national chair Steve White will give keynote speeches and there will be a session on firearms officers.

     
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