Police response to pandemic praised

The chair of Gwent Police Federation has welcomed praise for police forces and their ‘immediate and decisive’ action in response to the extreme circumstances of the pandemic in a report published today by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

Steve Thorpe’s comments come after a report, which followed an inspection of policing between March and November last year, recognised the fact that the fast-paces announcement and introduction of new legislation affected some forces’ ability to produce timely and clear guidance for officers and staff.

The report acknowledged that this led to confusion over the difference between legislation and Government guidance, stressing that the police can only enforce legislation.

But Steve says he is happy to hear officers are being recognised for their hard work over the past year. 

“The pandemic has been extremely challenging for everyone, not least our officers who have continued to put their own health, as well as that of their loved ones, at risk to serve and protect the public, carrying out their usual duties while also taking on the additional work of policing the pandemic,” he explains.

“Officers seem to have been constantly criticised in the media, for being either too forceful or too lenient, so I’m pleased that the report recognises how the changes in legislation has made their job more difficult.

“The Federation has been constantly highlighting the challenges members have faced over the past year. Our officers deserve the praise received in this report for their actions over the past 12 months.”

HMICFRS said demand on policing changed during the first lockdown. There were fewer reports of some crimes, such as theft and robbery, and an increased need to support the work of other frontline services as well as enforcing lockdown restrictions. This change meant forces used their resources differently. For example, some forces were able to clear backlogs of outstanding arrest warrants.

The inspectorate acknowledged the criticism some forces faced for their interpretation of lockdown restrictions, including undertaking road checks to identify unnecessary journeys, drone surveillance, and police action in relation to non-essential shopping and what was thought to be excessive exercise.

While these actions were viewed by some as heavy-handed or inconsistent, inspectors were assured that police forces had learnt from these instances and in general did well to maintain public trust.

Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Matt Parr said: “In these unprecedented times, the public looked to the police to continue to keep them safe and to keep order. While daily life substantially changed for the majority of us, the police were expected to continue to carry out their duties.

“Overall, the police rose to the challenge with dedication and commitment by taking immediate and decisive action to keep people safe and prevent crime, while also learning lessons from the rare occasions that they got it wrong.

“We know that police officers are on the frontline of Covid-19, with some tragically losing their lives to the virus. I offer our condolences to all those who have lost relatives, friends or colleagues.

“We have made recommendations to help the police improve their response to the pandemic, and to prevent existing issues in policing being made worse. The police, the criminal justice system and Government need to work together to solve these problems.”

The inspection found that police forces introduced new ways of working during the pandemic that could provide future benefits to policing, such as incorporating video conferencing technology in order to continue working with local safeguarding services.

However, some of the new ways of working adopted by police forces during the pandemic may not be right for the long-term. For example, to reduce infection risks some forces initially screened out more crimes that were unlikely to be solved, dealt with more victims indirectly, or reduced their in-person visits to offenders.

HMICFRS said that while these changes were sensible at the beginning of pandemic, forces should consider the effect they could have on the public.

It made several recommendations to police forces, including:

  • Forces must immediately make sure that police officers understand and correctly implement guidance for managing registered sex offenders during the pandemic
  • Forces must immediately ensure they are following self-isolation guidance when staff come into contact with someone with coronavirus symptoms
  • Within six months, forces must assess the sustainability of any temporary measures made during the pandemic that change the way they work.

HMICFRS has also today published a separate report about how police custody services in England and Wales operated during the pandemic.

The inspection found that police forces need to collect comprehensive and accurate information to assess the ongoing impact that Covid-19 and changes to working arrangements are having on custody services.

Policing in the pandemic.

Custody services.