A new study reveals police officers who have been attacked on duty lack confidence in the justice system’s ability to adequately punish offenders.
Researchers from James Cook University and Queensland Police Service (QPS) have conducted a two-year study reviewing assaults on police in northern Queensland.
Associate Professor Glenn Dawes from JCU said the team talked to police and offenders and viewed police body camera footage captured as officers were attacked.
“We combined the information, which included plotting both victims and offenders on psychological scales, and this allowed us to make some informed observations on what was going on when police were attacked,” said Dr Dawes.
The team talked to 40 north Queensland police officers who had been the victims of a serious assaults while on duty and 27 prisoners who had been charged with assaulting police.
“The main conclusions for police were the need for more focus on developing verbal and non-verbal communication skills, and on developing cross-cultural communication skills and protocols to effectively work with indigenous peoples,” said Dr Dawes.
He said the report also highlighted a lack of confidence by police officers in the ability of the court system to adequately punish people who attacked them. “There was strong support for mandatory prison sentences and the suggestion this could be extended to those who attacked police, prison or other emergency service personnel,” he said.
He said the accounts of assaults highlighted the physical and psychological impacts on people who had been attacked. The data also showed some officers returned to duty despite still suffering from physical injuries which prevented them from performing everyday activities.
“Most of the prisoners interviewed came from situations well known to lead to recidivist behavior. These include early interactions with the justice system, dysfunctional family environments, trauma, poor relationships, high levels of truancy, alcohol and drug use from an early age and low levels of paid employment,” said Dr Dawes.
He said the outcome of the psychological profiling was not surprising, with police having higher self-esteem and self-control than the prisoners, and more respect for authority.
“Both groups had more respect for authority as they aged, with prisoners who were younger more likely to be more impulsive, less inhibited and aggressive and prone to acting out without thinking of the long-term repercussions.”
Other recommendations included a community education program, enhanced training for police in communication skills – specifically in dealing with indigenous people and people suffering mental health problems – better support for officers who had been attacked, and a minimum level of protective equipment for front-line police.