Belfast Telegraph

Assaults on officers in Northern Ireland are an utter disgrace

Editor's Viewpoint

It's a side of the job that advertisements for recruits never show. If they did, the number of applicants might well drop. For policing in Northern Ireland today is a career which is not for the faint-hearted.

Statistics revealed by the Police Federation - the representative body for all ranks up to chief inspector - paint a shocking picture of the dangers officers face on a daily basis.

An estimated 80% of officers were subjected to verbal or physical assault in the last year. Half of those surveyed were assaulted or threatened with a weapon and 13% said they had been threatened with a deadly weapon, including a firearm.

There was a time before the Troubles when police officers were treated with respect. After the conflict came to an end and the increase in community support for the newly formed PSNI, it was reasonable for officers to expect more of that respect to be restored. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case.

It must also be remembered, that as well as dealing with violent thugs who are under the influence of drink or drugs, every police officer faces a real threat from dissident republicans. Earlier this year an officer was shot and wounded in north Belfast. Spitting is another despicable form of assault that almost three-quarters of officers, both male and female, have endured.

Spitting is a very offensive practice and also carries the risk of infection. Officers are justified in calling for the use of spit-guards to safeguard themselves from this disgusting offence. They should not have to endure such behaviour.

Policing is a challenging job, with officers having to display a wide range of skills during their daily work.

That is why a tweet by Chief Constable George Hamilton last year in response to an officer who said he was depressed and living on painkillers due to the demands of the job caused an outcry from the federation.

The Chief Constable had urged the officer to dry his eyes, do the job or move on. He admitted the job was complex and challenging, but said officers were there to serve and should get on with it rather than wallowing in self-pity.

It was a sentiment that could have been better expressed. Mr Hamilton later apologised, but he was expressing an opinion probably shared by many long-serving officers who know they have to do the job no matter what it entails. For that, we should be thankful.

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