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An Interdisciplinary Approach to Understanding Assaults on Police: Enriching Criminal Laws and Sentencing Policy

Kelley Burton, Kelly Hine, Catherine Creamer, Dimitra Lattas, Katie Davenport-Klunder

Abstract‚Äč

There is a dearth of literature on the assaults on Australian police officers in the execution of duty. This conference paper reviews an interdisciplinary collaboration between academics in law, criminology, psychology, counselling and social work to produce an in-depth understanding of how and why assaults occur on Australian police officers in the execution of duty. Each discipline brought its own perspective, methodology and insights to capture the complexities of the issue more comprehensively than a single field could alone. The law discipline enabled the skills to search cases in Westlaw, and interpret court cases and legislation, as well as an understanding of the classification of crime, seriousness of harms, culpability, sentencing purposes, sentencing options and appeals. Further, an appreciation of the difference between criminal and civil cases was important to the inclusion and exclusion rules. The other disciplines brought a more nuanced understanding of the offender such as their demeanour at the time of the incident, substance use, mental wellbeing, triggers and loss aversion theory. The project team developed and applied a detailed codebook to Australian cases where police officers were assaulted in 2010 until 2023, resulting in a large dataset. The interdisciplinary analysis of the large dataset is intended to enrich criminal laws and sentencing policy.