Do the public still respect the police?
PUBLISHED: 12:27 14 July 2014 | UPDATED: 12:27 14 July 2014
A police officer who had his leg broken in a horrific attack in Norwich’s Prince of Wales Road said there has been a “noticeable decline in people’s attitudes towards police” in the 23 years he has been in the force. “People see the uniform and not the person” observed PC Lee Wilson in an emotional victim impact statement he read to the court during the sentencing of Mohammed Labead at Norwich Crown Court.
The 19-year-old Norwich teenager was sentenced earlier this month to a total of 28 months in a young offenders institution after he admitted attacking PC Wilson, and two others, including a woman sergeant.
Speaking after the sentencing PC Wilson, who had his leg broken, said he had never experienced anything like the level of violence he was subjected to during the attack which left him “frightened and scared”.
The assault also highlighted something else – the decline in respect some people have for the police.
It seems a far cry from the days of Dixon of Dock Green, with the comfortable copper chatting amiably on the street corner.
PC Wilson said: “Police are there to protect people who genuinely want to go out for the night and enjoy themselves, and the majority do. There is a minority who seem to be intent on causing problems and there has been a noticeable decline in some people’s attitude towards police.
“Nothing appears to be off-limits from verbal abuse to being spat at and assaulted. This type of behaviour is dealt with robustly but there shouldn’t be a need for it.”
His views were echoed by Michelle Lillie, general secretary of the Norfolk Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers in the country, who has served with the police for almost 30 years.
She said: “I’m sure if I spoke to any of my other members, particularly in public order, I’m sure they would agree with Lee’s sentiments.
“It’s not broad. In terms of policing in Norfolk, there are still a lot of people that have a lot of respect for their local police service but as usual there are a minority that don’t seem to have any respect for the police at all.”
She added: “Sometimes all they see is the uniform and not the person or the family behind.
“I’ve been a police officer for more than 27 years and over that period of time I would say that there was a bit more respect when I first started.”
Perhaps one of the reasons for a decline in attitude towards the police is the negative publicity from high-profile cases like the Plebgate affair, where Andrew Mitchell MP was accused of calling officers plebs during the argument at the gates of Downing Street – an allegation he denied.
Three police officers have since been sacked for gross misconduct in connection with the incident and two more officers yet to face hearings.
Nick Dean, temporary assistant chief constable of Norfolk said “certain events nationally” have had an impact on people’s opinion on policing but insisted a lot of positive work had been done, including establishing a new professional body, the College of Policing, to set standards for the service.
The College of Policing has established a code of ethics which defines the exemplary standards of behaviour for everyone who works in policing.
Mr Dean said that while there were those in Norfolk who demonstrated a “lack of respect” be it verbally or through a serious assault like that on PC Wilson, they were in the minority.
He added: “We do enjoy a really good relationship, particularly in Norfolk, with the public. We’ve enjoyed and still enjoy policing by consent in this force.”
• LOSS OF RESPECT IN NORFOLK
While Plebgate was a national scandal, there have also been cases locally which have done little to win public confidence or support.
• In 2010 PC Dominic de Souza was jailed for three years after being found guilty of nine offences relating to misconduct in a public office after he tricked innocent people into accepting cautions and warnings to improve his detection rates. Sentencing de Souza Judge Peter Jacobs said the offences did “wholesale damage is done to public confidence in the police force in this county”.
• PC Kelly Jones, from Thetford police, sparked a media storm when it was revealed last year that she was making a claim against Steve Jones, owner of Nun’s Bridges Filling Station. PC Jones was attending a call to a suspected break-in on August 25 last year when she tripped on a kerb at the petrol station, injuring her left leg and right wrist. She has since dropped her claim.
• Earlier this month Norfolk police revealed PC Matthew Blake had resigned after he previously admitted harassing his former partner and using police computers to trace the address of her new boyfriend. Blake was sentenced to two months in prison, suspended for 18 months, when he appeared at Norwich Crown Court in May to be sentenced for harassment and threatening behaviour.
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