Police chief Robin Smith said that while assaults on law-enforcement officers remained ‘relatively low’, any attacks were ‘unacceptable’.
According to police figures, 2020 saw a total of 44 assaults against officers, while five have been recorded so far this year. There were 23 attacks in 2019 and 33 in 2018.
Last week a man was jailed for six months for spitting in the face of an officer while being transferred to a police vehicle. He also admitted a charge of being drunk and disorderly.
Meanwhile, forces in the UK recorded a sizeable increase in assaults on officers during the first three months of last year’s lockdown. Leicestershire Police saw cases more than double, while there was a 21% increase across the UK.
‘States of Jersey Police are all citizens in uniform,’ said Mr Smith. ‘We are members of the community enforcing the law and protecting the public, and any assault, no matter how many we have, is unacceptable. While the numbers remain relatively low in comparison to some other jurisdictions that I have worked in, any one of my staff being assaulted in the line of duty is entirely unacceptable.’
Last summer two 20-year-olds attacked an arresting officer, who was punched and repeatedly hit over the head with a foam scaffolding sleeve. Both were sentenced to 120 hours’ community service and ordered to pay compensation.
Mr Smith said that even in the face of such incidents, officers carried themselves with a high degree of professionalism that he was ‘so proud of’.
‘One of the things the States of Jersey Police is good at is that, when a tiny minority of the population seek to go so low, the States of Jersey police will go high,’ he said. ‘We have a duty, we have said an oath, they are professionally trained and they have good equipment. Therefore it is an unemotional response.’
Mr Smith said that the act of spitting at someone was ‘utterly disgusting’ but added that such cases were thankfully rare.
‘We have had, from my memory, just two spitting incidents during the pandemic,’ he said. ‘We deal with the relatively unusual in the usual way. As the chief officer, I feel I have an enormous responsibility to protect my staff and I do that by ensuring they have the proper equipment, training and leadership to protect them in any way that I can so that they can protect Islanders.’
Last year, the States Assembly agreed to allow more police officers to be armed with Tasers to help the force to combat a rise in violent offenders and people carrying weapons. Members voted by 34 to one in favour of allowing 20 more specially trained officers to carry the stun guns as part of a year-long trial.
And it was recently confirmed that cannisters of incapacitating PAVA spray would be issued to Customs officers following a number of physical incidents, which included two occasions where officers were assaulted.
Mark Cockerham, head of the Jersey Customs and Immigration Service, said: ‘Incidents involving physical confrontation are not common but assaults do happen and some frontline activity exposes officers to situations which carry a risk of injury
to both themselves and members of the public.’
He added that the use of the PAVA spray would only be considered ‘in very limited circumstances’ where there was a risk of violence and where using the spray would reduce the risk of a serious injury.