Ash Denham MSP has confirmed that Police Scotland officers who come into contact with someone suspected of having COVID-19 can access a test, even if symptomless.
The Edinburgh Eastern MSP outlined the government’s position in Parliament on Tuesday 12th May, as Police Scotland revealed that more than 100 coronavirus-related attacks on officers and staff had now been recorded.
Ms. Denham, who is the Scottish Government’s Minister for Community Safety, said that she agreed it was “completely unacceptable” for police officers to be victims of violence or abuse whilst doing their jobs.
She also praised the police force in Scotland for achieving a strong level of public confidence and consent during the first phase of the pandemic, following a public opinion survey published this week by the Scottish Police Authority (SPA).
Commenting, Ms. Denham said:
“Police Scotland officers are on the frontline each day to protect the public and keep us all safe, including from COVID-19.
“It is totally unacceptable for any police officer to be a victim of abuse or violence while trying to do their job.
“Anyone who assaults our officers or engages in such behaviour can lead to a prison sentence of up to a year, a £10,000 fine, or both following a conviction of assaulting, hindering or obstructing a police officer.
“If any officer is concerned after a COVID-19 interaction – as I imagine many would be – then they can speak to Police Scotland’s Human Resources department to access testing if that is judged to be appropriate following a risk assessment. And I can confirm that officers do not have to be symptomatic to access testing.”
On the recently published SPA report, the Edinburgh Eastern MSP praised officers working across the country:
“Police Officers are putting themselves at risk working in these challenging and unprecedented times. These positive survey findings underline officers’ professionalism during the pandemic.
“It is worth noting that public confidence in policing in Scotland was higher last month than when compared to the last survey in 2017/18, and that public support for the approach taken by policing in Scotland during the pandemic is higher than a recent YouGov survey for the UK.”
SPA survey link: http://www.spa.police.uk/news/618708/
Ash Denham MSP’s quotes from Tuesday 12th May’s Parliamentary session in full:
Covid-19 (Attacks on Police Officers)
2. Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con):
To ask the Scottish Government what urgent action it will take in light of reports of Covid-19-related attacks on police officers. (S5T-02152)
The Minister for Community Safety (Ash Denham):
Our police officers are on the front line each day to protect the public and to keep us all safe from Covid-19. No police officer should be the victim of abuse or violence while at work, and I support the chief constable in describing such behaviour as totally unacceptable.
Yesterday, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice spoke to the chief constable and the chair of the Scottish Police Federation, and he had very positive discussions with both. It is clear that, when an officer has a Covid-19 interaction, Police Scotland can offer facilities for an assessment and, where appropriate, a test.
The Lord Advocate has confirmed that those who assault our officers and engage in such behaviour will be dealt with robustly by Scotland’s prosecution service. The Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 enables penalties of up to 12 months’ imprisonment, a £10,000 fine or both following conviction for the offences of assaulting, hindering or obstructing a police officer. Our justice system also provides for protection for all workers under our common laws of assault, threatening and abusive behaviour and breach of the peace.
Police officers are on the front line of enforcing the lockdown, and they continue to do their usual jobs of detecting crime and keeping us safe. For that, we cannot thank them enough. Unfortunately, some officers report being spat at and coughed at in a disgusting attempt to spread the coronavirus. Such behaviour is an attack on us all. The Scottish Police Federation has called for a guarantee that such individuals will not be released before appearing in court, so why has the Crown Office not directed that to happen?
As I have just said, any police officer who is concerned after having a Covid-19 interaction—as I imagine many of them would be—can speak to Police Scotland’s human resources department and access a test, even if they are not symptomatic. There is no barrier to accessing testing. As Alexander Stewart rightly says, the police are at the front line, putting themselves at risk on a daily basis in order to keep the rest of us safe. We want them to have confidence that those who are concerned can access testing, and we expect them to be able to do so.
Alexander Stewart mentioned automatic remand for those who carry out such an assault on a police officer. I point him towards the Crown Office’s recent guidelines, which were issued by the Lord Advocate at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak. He said that liberation is a decision for the police based on the circumstances of the individual incident and that the police can detain any person to protect the public from risk of harm. A person spitting at someone and saying that they have the virus would obviously meet a reasonable description of putting someone at risk of harm.
The Scottish Police Federation has also called for routine testing of officers who do not have symptoms but who might be spreading the coronavirus across communities without knowing. When the Deputy First Minister was asked about that on the radio yesterday, he did not respond by saying that that would happen. Can we get a straight answer from the minister that police officers who are putting themselves at risk will receive tests?
Yes. I am happy to go on the record as saying that there is no barrier to accessing testing for police officers or staff. Any police officer or member of staff who is concerned about their health or wellbeing following an assault of any kind relating to Covid-19 should contact Police Scotland’s HR department to be risk assessed. Following that, a decision will be made about whether testing is appropriate for that individual.
Since 6 April, we have been working with Police Scotland to ensure that officers and staff can access testing at a number of sites, so that those who can be tested are being tested. Police Scotland’s HR department is now able to risk assess any officer or member of staff who believes that they are at a heightened risk, and they will be able to access testing if that is judged to be appropriate. I emphasise that people do not have to be symptomatic to access testing. If someone has had an interaction that has given them concern, they can contact Police Scotland’s HR department to access testing.
We are ensuring that Police Scotland continues to have priority access to testing. The testing of police officers and staff is important and will continue for as long as is necessary.
Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP):
Police officers have performed a crucial role during the first phase of the Covid-19 emergency, and it was right for the minister to clearly state that no police officer should be the victim of abuse or violence while they are at work. Can she outline the extent to which the public has confidence in policing in Scotland during the coronavirus pandemic?
Last week, the Scottish Police Authority published the initial results from its new public opinion survey. Those results indicated a strong level of public confidence in and consent for Police Scotland during the first phase of the Covid-19 emergency. The SPA reported that
“Public confidence in policing in Scotland was higher in April 2020 than when compared to the last Scottish Crime and Justice Survey”.
The last survey was carried out in 2017-18. The SPA also reported that
“Public support for the approach taken by policing in Scotland to the Covid-19 emergency is higher than a recent YouGov survey finding for Great Britain.”