21 July 2020

Surveying officer safety

The National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) commissioned the Officer and Staff Safety Review in September 2019 following a number of serious assaults on police that had attracted both police and public interest about the welfare of officers.

​This review was informed by the views of more than 40,000 officers and staff in the largest survey of policing ever carried out. 

The survey found:

  • Almost nine out of 10 police officers (88% ) said they had been assaulted at some point during their careers

  • 39% reported they had been assaulted in the last 12 months 

  • Repeat victimisation was common – of those who had been assaulted in the previous 12 months, 50% of custody officers and 46% of response officers have been assaulted at least three times during their career

  • Only half (52%) said their training had taught them how to defuse confrontation and a quarter (26%) said that not enough time was spent training essential verbal communication

  • In 2018/19, there were 328 assaults per 1,000 constables – roughly one offence for every three constables – up from 284 per 1,000 in the previous year

  • The College of Policing  estimates that 71,308 days were taken as sick leave in 2018/19 as a result of assaults against police officers, at a total estimated salary cost of £4.7 million

 What was the purpose of seeking frontline opinions?

The intention of the review was to provide the first in-depth evaluation of existing arrangements for police officer and staff safety in England and Wales. Using an evidence-based approach, the review aimed to make recommendations to reduce the risks of injury and assault for police in the course of their duties. A further objective of the review was to ensure public confidence in the police's capacity to keep them safe. The six elements of the review were:

  • Analysis of the existing evidence base concerning officer and staff safety

  • Understanding how officer and staff safety arrangements may impact upon police legitimacy and public confidence

  • Suitability and distribution of the equipment issued to officers and staff for their personal safety

  • Training provided to officers and staff concerning their own safety

  • Welfare support for officers and staff

  • Criminal Justice outcomes, for example, police investigations and criminal proceedings

Views of frontline police officers and staff were critical to this review. Without the survey, the review would have been reliant on the limited academic evidence available and on national data which focuses only on police recorded use of force, rather than the views and experiences of officers and staff. The survey allowed us to develop a richer understanding of officer and staff safety.

Conducting the survey

We think that the safety survey is the largest ever survey to have been carried out with the police in England and Wales. According to the national police workforce statistics of 2019, the survey responses included 20% of all police officers and 25% of all PCSOs. The high number of returns reflect concerns about the issue and may also be a result of the timing of the survey. A large number of officers and staff felt able to contribute their existing opinions on this issue. 

Challenges in carrying out the survey

From a researcher's perspective, we found a number of issues with conducting such a large scale survey:

  • The sheer size of the desired sample presented some difficulties. The survey was sent to 243,843 officers and staff in forces across England and Wales, just accessing and formatting the contacts for the distribution of the survey was time-consuming and not always straightforward.

  • Ensuring anonymity and confidentiality of responses was important because many of the survey questions related to personal views, experiences of assaults and feelings of safety.

  • The survey was live for four weeks and once complete, data management at this scale and pace presented ongoing challenges and our processes ensured that respondents' answers were not compromised.

  • Ensuring an adequate response rate, we achieved 17% of all officers and staff, involved sending structured reminders using alternative wording targeting different audiences to prompt responses. We also used established connections with the NPCC, the Police Federation and individual forces to get their help in maximising responses.

  • Other practical issues may have contributed to a higher-than-usual response rate. By chance, the survey period occurred during the month-long Autumn Uprising Extinction Rebellion protests that required significant amounts of police mutual aid. There may have been a link between officers from a number of forces, deployed to London to carry out public order duties, having more opportunities to complete the survey for example when travelling or awaiting deployments.

 

Our next steps

Publication of the Officer and Staff Safety Review was delayed until September 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which again has highlighted issues of safety for frontline officers and staff. Work has been underway since then to begin implementing the recommendations of this review and to improve safety of officers and staff. For example, the survey results are already informing other College projects on conflict de-escalation and the review of the national Personal Safety Training curriculum.

The results of the survey, the report for the Officer and Staff Safety Review, the conflict management guidelines and further supporting information can all be found here.

 

 

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