Northern Ireland

PSNI records almost 3,000 assaults on officers every year

PSNI officer
Image caption The Police Federation complained there is an expectation that police are "fair game" for assault

An average of almost 3,000 assaults a year on Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers have been recorded over the past 10 years.

Assaults can include anything from being spat at or verbally abused to murder.

BBC News NI obtained the figures via a Freedom of Information (FoI) request.

The Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers. said there is a societal problem with an expectation police are "fair game" for assault.

'Punched and kicked'

One serving police officer who has been the victim of assault in the line of duty told BBC News NI he had not "signed up" to be attacked.

"I've been punched, kicked, bitten, had things thrown at me, been hit by bottles," he said.

Image caption One officer, who did not want to be identified, sustained cuts in one attack

"Members of the public have spoken to me saying: 'You're a police officer, that's what you signed up for.'

"That's not what I signed up for. It's part of the job, I understand that, but we're people too.

"I have to go home at the end of a shift, I have a family at home that want me to come back.

"Members of the public just see a uniform, a faceless uniform."

Attacks on other members of the emergency services make the headlines frequently.

But a comparison of incidents of abuse on ambulance workers and firefighters with those on police officers over the same period highlights how attacks on police are much more prevalent.

Recorded assaults on police officers do not automatically become formal charges.

Police Federation chairman Mark Lindsay said the criminal justice system is not doing enough to deter attacks.

"Police officers are out there doing their job protecting society and quite frequently they come across the worst elements of society," he said.

"I think there has to be an element of the criminal justice system taking this more seriously."

'Unacceptable'

The Public Prosecution Service prosecuted more than 1,500 assaults on PSNI officers last year.

However, the actual figure may be higher because of how the statistics are compiled.

Image caption Mark Lindsay said the justice system is not doing enough to deter attacks

In a statement, Judiciary NI said: "Sentencing is a matter for each individual judge after consideration of the specific circumstances of each case.

"In calculating the appropriate sentence for the offence, the judge will have considered a range of factors."

Tony Caher, a solicitor working in criminal practice in Northern Ireland, argued that the courts take attacks on police "very seriously".

"I think custodial sentences can be anticipated," he said.

"I don't think it's a problem with the criminal justice system but it's a societal problem that people do tolerate disorder and minor assaults on the police to an unacceptable extent."

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