Darroch Ball: Our First Responders are not punching bags

Opinion 17/01/2020

By Darroch Ball, New Zealand First Law & Order spokesperson.

There was a recent vicious assault on a lone St John paramedic returning from a job when she disturbed an intruder at her station who then dragged her from the ambulance, beat, and kicked her viciously.  This incident is only the tip of the iceberg and a symptom of a chronic, widespread and growing problem. 

Assaults on our first responders - Police, Paramedics and even our Firefighters – have been steadily increasing over the past few decades. Our Corrections officers have also seen an increase in assaults against them with quite a marked increase within the past few years. The number of assaults on all our first responders suffer every year may be surprising to some people. 

Assaults on Police increased by more than a third last year with over 350 officers being injured in serious assaults.  The actual number is much higher when detailing common assault attacks with close to 1800 officers being hit, struck, bitten, spat at and even exposed to blood. Assaults on Corrections Officers have also increased markedly over the past three years up from 400 to over 650 assaults every single year. 

Our St John paramedics are attacked more than 50 times every week.  The coward who attacked the female lone paramedic in Warkworth dragged her from the ambulance, hit her to the ground and booted her in the face until she was unconscious.

For those of us old enough to remember, thirty years ago no one would dream of laying a finger on a Police Officer and would be embarrassed to even think of touching a paramedic.  The ‘frog in the pot’ that has been simmering away for the past few decades has been the ever increasing lack of respect for our men and women in uniform. 

Offenders simply don’t care anymore.  It has gone so far and grown so intense, that it is now a full blown culture of treating any authority with disdain. Far from those in uniform being respected by offenders – they are instead looked upon more as targets of anger.

There are multiple and varied reasons why this is the case, and as such, there cannot be a single answer to solve it. But what we can do that is simple, effective, and immediate is to draw a line in the sand and let all these offenders know that if the touch our first responders they will have the book thrown at them.

It’s simple.  If someone chooses to assault our first responders then they can spend at least the next six months in a jail cell contemplating why they need to start making better choices.  That’s a minimum, mandatory sentence that will be applied to all those who attack our Police, Firefighters or Ambulance Paramedics.  And if you’re a prisoner who attacks a Corrections Officer you can have that six months tacked on the end of whatever your current sentence is.

This will demonstrate how serious we as a society, take any assaults on our first responders and how we as a society will no longer accept of lenient sentencing. First responders put themselves in dangerous, risky and selfless situations every day in order to protect and save our lives.   We need to protect them in their service for us.

Darroch Ball is New Zealand First List MP and Law & Order spokesperson.