The Police have a duty to protect life and safeguard property. The nature of their job means that it is normal for an officer to be in contact with potentially violent people.
This case study focuses on the Staffordshire Police Force. The Force is located in the Midlands and covers an area of 1048 square miles with a total population of 1 059 664.
Most uniformed officers, plain-clothes detectives and some civilian support staff who work in the Staffordshire Police Force often work on their own. The majority of police officers carry out lone working duties for more than 50 percent of their time. Officers are also classed as mobile workers, for example when on patrol.
Officers in uniform patrol on their own, in vehicles or on foot. Civilian staff occasionally work alone in the enquiry office.
Late evening work between 8 pm and 2.30 am: more assaults occur between these hours when there tend to be fewer witnesses/members of the public around.
Licensed premises at the above times: sudden tensions can arise when large groups gather in localised areas.
Alcohol consumption and drug abuse: use by members of the public can lead to anti-social behaviour.
Football matches: involving large crowds of troublesome and potentially aggressive fans.
Resentment of police authority: aggression can arise when the police tell people what to do.
Geographical area: certain industrial, urban and rural areas pose particular risks to lone workers – eg resource support may be some distance away from lone workers in rural areas.
While certain violence prevention measures are mandatory in the whole Police Service, individual Police Forces can adopt other measures, with advice from the Home Office.
Initial personal safety training and refresher courses: all officers do initial personal safety training and attend refresher courses every two years. This training, with the provision of radios and personal safety equipment, is considered the best way of reducing and tackling violent incidents.
Key training messages:
Reporting incidents: failure to report an assault may have implications for an officer in terms of his/her pension, a prosecution case or entitlement to compensation. These implications encourage officers to report all assaults which result in bodily injury. Verbal abuse is not recorded, as it is too prevalent. This enables the Force to keep accurate data on levels of physical violence against officers although it is likely that actual levels of violence or attempted aggression are considerably higher than the data indicate.
Tension indicators: Police use local intelligence and knowledge of the area to establish any concerns or problems which might give rise to tensions or potential violence.
Desk design: some support staff work behind desks which are designed to prevent a physical attempt to grab them.
Escape routes: support staff have an escape route to another part of the building which is secure and separate from the reception area.
Glass screens: enquiry desks in some stations have screens made from toughened glass – staff can still be seen but are physically protected from potential aggressors.
Panic alarms: these are installed in enquiry offices and interview rooms.
Communication devices, eg radios and telephones: all officers have radios which they pass through a system to sign in, notifying the control room they are on duty. A radio alarm button can warn the control centre to alert other officers to assist a lone worker. Officers also use code words to alert the control room of danger.
Physical conflict resolution tools: these include CS spray, batons and handcuffs.
Double crews: officers do not work alone in some higher risk situations.
Dynamic risk assessments: supervisors constantly reassess risks as circumstances change. This helps to reduce risks for lone working officers. Separate risk assessments are conducted for city centre officers.
Some measures are not always effective or have disadvantages:
Disregarding safety: officers often disregard their own safety so systems that rely on individuals to perform an action, such as waiting for back-up if a situation looks risky, are fallible.
Needs versus resources: the Police must respond to requests for help if life or property is at stake, even if they are working alone. Every effort is made to ensure two officers attend an incident if this is judged to be necessary, but sometimes another police officer is not available.
Radio alarm: the radio ‘alarm’ system, enabling officers to be located, only works if officers remember to sign themselves in.
Isolation: sometimes a lone worker will be a relatively long distance from back-up when it is needed.
Work pressures: sometimes people cannot attend personal safety training because of pressure of work.
Assault record: the number of assaults resulting in injury to police officers has not increased since the introduction of personal safety training in 1997. There has been some reduction in reported assaults between 2000/01 and 2001/02.
Confidence: informal feedback from staff suggests that the training has improved confidence in resolving conflict.
Pride: a staff perception survey indicated that 70 percent of staff were proud to work for their department and division.
Staffordshire Police feel that the benefits of their violence prevention and management measures outweigh the costs of implementing them: