Covid-19 has had a massive impact on the world we live in. As a police officer, I have had to adjust to our new ‘normal’ with little opportunity allow new processes and even legislation to bed in.
The NHS are at the forefront of fighting this dreadful disease, but out on the streets the police are not only fighting crime but also this silent, unknown enemy. From a policing perspective the negatives are undoubtedly huge; there will be an increase in domestic incidents as people are forced to live together in such a restricted way, some of the most vulnerable young people have lost the safe haven of schools and our custodians and courts are delaying anything other than the most essential business. Yet despite this, from my position, as a frontline uniformed member of our police service, I can see some positives.
As a 24-hour service we had become society’s go-to for almost every issue. If someone has bad-mouthed you on Facebook? Call the police. A car is parked on ‘my’ piece of road outside my house? Call the police. These issues are invariably logged and dealt with in some way by a uniformed officer.
However, in the past few weeks these calls have decreased. It would seem that society has either learned to look after itself or realised that an emergency service is for exactly that – an emergency. A family member working within Accident and Emergency has also found that people are only asking for help when they really need it rather than when they require non-emergency treatment.
We have also seen that our joint agency partners are evolving and taking on more roles that would have fallen historically to the police. Take the government’s drive to ensure every homeless person is housed, as an example. We are now seeing our partner agencies out on the streets engaging with the homeless and helping resolve some of their issues. Our local councils have set up more accessible routes for the public to report issues such as fly tipping, again relieving the pressure on police control rooms.
As a result, the police now have more time to be police officers.
As a police service we have also been more robust in our approach. Social distancing is being implemented within forces and we are not visiting home addresses unless the threat to a member of the public warrants such attendance.
We are holding virtual meetings within our own force and across other joint agencies. This is completely new, certainly in our force, but the benefits are huge; no travel time is incurred and no fuel bill. With this extra time, we are out patrolling our streets. I accept that our resources are being directed to visible patrols to ‘encourage’ lockdown, but the community support we are receiving is huge. The public like seeing police officers out on patrol. We have officers back out on bicycles covering 10-15 miles a day actively engaging with the public.
Within our force we have split personnel across our stations, meaning that our rural areas are suddenly seeing police officers again. We will never be able measure what we are preventing by our presence, but we are creating and reinforcing a feeling of community safety.
By far the biggest benefit we’ve seen during this crisis is how communities have pulled together. We have tried for years to get Neighbourhood Watches set up and suddenly we have hundreds of households coming together to support one another. Within our area we have contacted all of the leaders of these closes, roads and collections of properties and are storing their details. These are links that we can utilise in the future for crime prevention initiatives, local intelligence sharing, and getting these community members to keep a look out for vulnerable neighbours. The Big Society that David Cameron’s government once proposed all those years ago, is finally becoming a reality.
The virus will leave our society bruised and battered, but we will come out of this stronger by retaining some our new working practices. We owe it to the people that are not going to come through this to have built stronger more resilient communities. Community 2020 is not only an opportunity for society to take better care of itself, it encourages individuals to help one another and agencies that do not offer a 24-hour service being more available to the public.
My hope is that after this crisis abates, agencies and community groups will take a greater role in dealing with non-emergency actions within their districts. This in turn will free up the police to go back to being a truly emergency service, and one that can focus on dealing with crime and disorder.
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