Chair’s policing pandemic evidence to House of Lords

15 December 2020

The national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) has told the House of Lords that he “couldn’t be prouder” of how colleagues had policed the pandemic.

John Apter, who attended a House of Lords Constitution Committee session with the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners’ (APCC) chair Paddy Tipping, also highlighted the challenges of rapid changes in legislation and media criticism of policing.

During the inquiry into the constitutional implications of the Covid-19 crisis, John said: “This has been the most unprecedented time for policing and it is important we recognise that. My colleagues have absolutely stepped up to the plate during this crisis and I couldn’t be prouder of them as they are faced with rapid changes in legislation and unfair criticism in the national media.”

He explained how the PFEW had raised concerns during discussions with the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), the Home Office and the wider Government throughout the crisis. The Lords were told while the concerns were listened to, some messages failed to filter through to the Prime Minister.

John also said that ahead of ‘Super Saturday’ on 4 July, the Police Federation warned the Government against relaxing restrictions over a weekend: “I completely understand the economic pressures but this decision (to open pubs on a Saturday after months of lockdown) put an intolerable amount of pressure on my colleagues. All we wanted from the Government was an understanding that when these announcements are made there are consequences for policing.”

In addition, the national chair shone a spotlight on members who are under an immense amount of pressure as they deal with crime levels similar to those seen before the pandemic, referring to a 21 per cent increase in recorded assaults on police officers during the first period of lockdown, compared to the same time the previous year.

When asked how police officers on the frontline were advised of changes to coronavirus restrictions and whether they had been clear, he said there were often delays because of the speed of new legislation and the main information was shared via PowerPoint presentations. He said officers preferred to be told face to face on shift briefings and stressed the need for simpler guidance.

“We have over-complicated the guidance. I acknowledge lessons have been learnt and I appreciate this is an unprecedented time but simplicity is key. I accept the tiering system has made it more complex but it doesn’t help colleagues out on the frontline,” he said, adding “But this was a good opportunity to highlight the realities of policing during the pandemic and the pressure my colleagues have been, and remain, under.

“They have been labelled the villains of this pandemic by some media and this is an insult to those officers who have done their absolute best in these very difficult times.”