The battered blue line
By Tom Whitehead, Home Affairs Correspondent
BRITAIN — A POLICE officer is attacked every 20 minutes in Britain, in an alarming growth in violence on our streets.
At the country's biggest force, assaults have more than doubled in the past five years - and officers in some areas can be set upon at least three times a year.
The equivalent of five in every six officers have been assaulted in the line of duty since 2002.
A study shows no officer is safe, and follows a series of attacks including the murder of WPC Sharon Beshenivsky in 2005. Rank-and-file leaders warned that officers are struggling to provide protection for the public.
Tory MP Grant Shapps, who got the figure using the Freedom of Information Act, said: "The number of attacks on our police officers in the last five years reveals the hidden yet perilous reality of life on the front line.
"While the still-infrequent murder of a police officer always grabs press and public attention, a hidden - but growing - problem is the rising risk of assault. This report suggests that across Britain, respect for the police has crumbled." Figures from 50 of the 51 forces in England, Scotland and Wales revealed 25,368 assaults on officers, last year alone. That was equal to more than 70 every day - or one every 20 minutes.
Overall, there have been 126,860 attacks since 2002, equivalent to five in every six of the 151,208 people who guard our communities.
In the Metropolitan Police, the problem has more than doubled in that time. There were 1,465 assaults in 2002, but that soared to 3,339 last year.
The Met insisted that the figures do not mean attacks on officers in the capital have doubled. A spokeswoman said: "There has been increased reporting, an increase of 7,000 officers in 2002, and an increase of 4,500 Police Community Support Officers, which we have included in these figures." Most dangerous is Strathclyde, with about 4,000 attacks a year. Central Scotland has had 3,663 assaults in the past five years. There are only 1,365 in the force. In England, the West Midlands is worst, with 14,099 assaults since 2002 - an average of almost two each for the 8,153-strong force.
The Police Federation revealed last year that four in 10 officers had feared for their lives while on duty. Almost a third had been threatened with a knife and six per cent faced a gun.
Federation chairman Jan Berry said yesterday: "A number of forces are failing to provide the minimum officersafety refresher training, further evidence that our health and safety are not being taken seriously." The Home Office said: "Assaults on those serving the public will not be tolerated. Officers place themselves in the front line deserve protection." The Daily Express revealed this month that officers take up to three weeks sick leave a year, costing taxpayers at least GBP 4million a week.
Many of the reasons were put down to injuries suffered while on duty.
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British study: Assault on police every 20 minutes