Published: 16:45, 25 June 2020
| Updated: 09:33, 26 June 2020
Criminals assaulting and spitting at police officers are set to receive harsher sentences in a move welcomed by Kent's leading police figures.
Home Secretary Priti Patel says she wants to up the maximum sentence for anyone found guilty of assaulting emergency workers to two years in prison – double the current punishment.
It comes amid a shocking trend of rising attacks on officers in the county which has been slammed by the Kent Police Federation, police and crime commissioner Matthew Scott and Kent's Chief Constable Alan Pughsley.
Last year, Kent Police recorded 1,234 attacks on officers – equal to 24 per week or three every day. In the four week period up to June 21, the 134 incidents represented an increase of more than a third (34%) compared to the same time last year.
Neil Mennie, chairman of the Kent Police Federation, which represents police on the beat in Kent, says the recent rise in offences regarding coughing and spitting at officers amid the coronavirus pandemic has been "disgusting".
“A minority of individuals have sought to use this terrible pandemic to try to intimidate and threaten our colleagues," Mr Mennie said.
“One thing we can be sure of is that they will fail and be arrested – be it Covid-related or any other type of assault.
“This is a further important announcement from Priti Patel which will protect our police colleagues and indeed all emergency service workers.”
But Mr Scott says he believes any assault to an officer of the law should incur an automatic jail term.
"Anyone working in our emergency services should not have to suffer assaults but sadly too many people do," he told KentOnline.
"We should increase sentencing – they are assaults on all of us. I'm glad the Home Secretary will be taking it further."
Mr Scott added he was concerned the previous maximum sentence of 12 months meant too often sentences actually passed had been too lenient meaning "criminals have become emboldened".
He said he hoped the new sentence would give greater power to judges and the courts and for anyone breaking the law there "should be automatic deprivation of their liberty and go to prison".
Across England and Wales the number of assaults on officers increased by 24% in the four weeks up to June 7 as the country emerged out of lockdown.
Mr Scott branded people spitting at officers and members of the public during the Covid-19 pandemic as "scumbags" and described it as "lowlife behaviour".
In recent years, Kent Police and Mr Scott have introduced protective measures for officers such as tasers for all officers should they want one, body-worn cameras and spit guards.
"The chief constable reports to me every week. We've rolled out the tasers and I have underwritten that financially.
"We're both quite robust on this. We've got to look after the people that look after us."
Mr Scott continued his commitment to ensuring police are given the right equipment for protection and "speak out a national level".
Kent Police Chief Constable Alan Pughsley said: "My officers are required to attend unpredictable, challenging and volatile situations but this doesn’t mean they should accept being abused or assaulted.
"Deliberately coughing or spitting on a police officer or other emergency worker is completely unacceptable at any time, but even more so when we are in the midst of a public health emergency and they are all working hard to keep everyone safe."
Chief Constable Pughsley described the increase in offences in the last month as "absolutely appalling and unacceptable".
He added: "Whilst policing is a dangerous job, being assaulted must never be seen as being ‘just part of the job’ and the safety of our officers is a priority for us.
"The minority of people who think it is acceptable to carry out such offences can expect to be arrested, charged and put before the courts where I hope they will receive the strongest penalties possible."
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