Back in February, the public affairs team at the Police Federation of England and Wales launched its “Protect the Protectors” campaign, designed to raise awareness of rising assault rates targeting emergency service workers and force a government response. They got it.
British Home Office data indicates some 26,000 assaults against police officers in England and Wales in 2017, with a further 17,000 against public health workers in the year to March 2018. An assault refers to any situation where an offender struggles to get free, either by “wrestling, hitting, kicking or spitting”; according to the Police Federation, an assault occurs every four minutes in the UK.
As part of the “Protect the Protectors” campaign launch, the Federation produced a range of materials, including case studies of assaults, and created a petition for change- for which the Federation sought support from the Prison Officers’ Association, British Transport Police and unions.
“My colleague thought I’d died in her arms,” says one officer in an impactful three-minute film uploaded by the Federation to YouTube. To date, the video has been viewed over 4,000 times.
Local branches of the Federation then backed the campaign by lobbying local lawmakers for legal changes, calling for tougher sentences for those that assault emergency workers, better training and equipment, and more accurate data on public officer assaults. Legislation was eventually drafted.
“This was a complicated piece of legislation that went through various drafts, with feedback along the way from a range of representative bodies to try to achieve the best possible outcome for their members,” says Melanie Davies, corporate and campaigns manager at the Federation.
Indeed, the legislation was itself a mammoth work of collaborative effort: going through various drafts based on feedback from a number of stakeholders, including the Royal College of Nursing and Unison, a new maximum sentence was eventually settled on.
The current six-month maximum sentence for common assault has now been doubled to a year under the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill. Receiving royal assent last month, the new law will take effect on 12 November. For the first time in the UK, it will be a specific criminal offence to assault emergency workers- including police, firefighters and paramedics.
The Federation now says it will build on the success of its campaign by lobbying for the toughest sentences to be imposed in a bid to ensure a strong deterrent to assaults. Furthermore, the Federation stands to promote the aims of the campaign in the media and in Parliament.
From the inside, this year’s campaign has also represented a communications win: throughout the campaign, the Federation has sought to prioritise the needs of officers, communicating the change throughout the organization in a bid to ensure that its members feel recognised and better protected.
According to Davies, the internal message of this external message is clear: “Fairness across the board and ensuring members are aware of where they stand, feel supported and that there is consistency with sentencing across the country.”