It was almost inevitable. Sooner or later, amidst the chaos and carnage of this Coronavirus crisis, the attention of the media and sections of the public would focus upon the police.
New, hastily drawn up laws were viewed with concern by those within the police community who could foresee trouble ahead. The outcry was speedy and predictable. Columnists of both the right and left rushed to condemn the destruction of our civil liberties as did a succession of barristers.
Those criticising the measures appeared to have completely forgotten events just days previously when areas of natural beauty together with parks and beaches became jammed with the members of the public who displayed a complete disregard for their own safety and the safety of others.
A price not worth paying
It begs the questions as to exactly how those condemning the destruction of our civil liberties, would deal with the situation. Amazingly there are still those who seem to suggest that the whole Coronavirus crisis is grossly over-hyped and the price we are paying in terms of ‘civil liberties’ and the economy simply isn’t worth it.
Any hastily introduced emergency legislation will have a bedding-in period while different interpretations inevitably result. What was needed, in the absence of any training opportunities, was specific, detailed guidance for officers on the front line. It also needed all 43 forces to be broadly ‘singing off the same hymn-sheet.’ Here, once again, questions must be asked of the College of Police and the National Police Chief’s Council.
I awoke, on Monday morning, to news on Radio 4 that Warrington police had proclaimed via social media, their ‘successes’ in reporting errant members of the public.
Meanwhile, social media was showing footage of a Met police sergeant apparently reporting an Edgware shopkeeper who was chalking marks on the pavement with the intention of keeping customers a safe distance apart. In fact, the shopkeeper was not reported for the offence, the officer was believed to have been given words of advice and he received no support from the police community.
I suspected that this would spark a feeding frenzy amongst the newspapers who have long been hostile to police and so it proved. Police overstepping the mark, enforcing new legislation in difficult circumstances was manna from heaven.
Inevitably, with any anti-police press story, it is every police officer who finds him or herself on the end of a pointing finger. Of course, errors occur within the NHS that lead to tragic outcomes but not every doctor and nurse has to shoulder a portion of the blame.
Not so with the police: when matters go wrong, every officer is smeared. There would have been many thousands of interactions involving police and public across all 43 police forces, after this new legislation, with most being dealt with amicably, to the satisfaction of all parties.
Thank you very much your support. I have to admit, I have a thick skin but today all the negative coverage in the press really demoralised me, we spend time away from our loved ones to help to the best of our ability during a national crisis. We need to work together.— PC Mo #StayHomeSaveLives (@_Manchestermo) March 31, 2020
Yet every police officer on the front line will be labelled as some sort of power-crazed jobsworth due to the actions of a handful of colleagues, who have probably been obeying the instructions of senior officers.
Cressida Dick made it clear that she didn’t expect punitive actions by her officers and highly regarded Northants Chief Constable Nick Adderley pointed out that his officers had not issued any tickets or made any arrests. Such would have been the situation across most of the 43 forces, but of course that isn’t news.
Arguably, the most eye-catching stories concerned police allegedly using the new legislation to prevent individuals buying Easter eggs and the defiling of a Derbyshire quarry pool known as the blue lagoon.
Hello, the concerns that we had from retailers were about a small number of incidents where environmental health officers were telling them that they shouldn't sell non essential goods like easter eggs. The police have not been involved with this issue.— ACS (@ACS_LocalShops) March 30, 2020
The Easter egg incident involved environmental health officers not police yet that didn’t stop the Telegraph from publishing a full colour cartoon showing riot police lined up in front of shelves full of Easter eggs.
Quarry pools are, of course notorious in terms of safety. They look inviting but the chill factor has led to a number of deaths despite warnings which go unheeded. This particular quarry has an additional unwelcome feature in that the water is toxic.
Using ink to discourage bathers has in fact been an annual feature since 2013.
Hi, this lake has been dyed for many years under the authority of, and in conjunction with, the local council. It is part of a disused quarry and the water is highly toxic. It is not a beauty spot. It is dyed to deter people from swimming in it for their own safety.— Derbyshire Police (@DerbysPolice) March 30, 2020
With the press focussing on a tiny proportion of interactions that either fulfilled the definition of ‘fake news’ or were isolated examples of over-zealous policing without any attempt at balance, it’s little wonder that there are concerns over police morale.
As for the drone; it was in response to concerned residents; perhaps someone thought putting it up there might actually save some police time.
Exposed by shortages
There has been and still is a shortage of PPE. At the beginning of this firestorm I acquired a box of virus killing hand-wipes. Deciding that I didn’t really need them, I posted their availability on twitter. Within minutes they were claimed by a London police station.
Officers at one police station performing duty at the weekend found that the replacement hand gel had been locked away until Monday. Masks appear to be a ‘no no’ based, according to government ministers, on the ‘best scientific advice’ rather than a lack of availability. Hopefully this advice didn’t emanate from those who championed the herd immunity concept.
Patrol officers are getting stressed going to calls with no masks. I was approached *direct* about this today. No one has even hinted they won't carry on, but Control need to respect this & only deploy to urgent stuff. I'm listening to every single call like a hawk #coronavirus— Inspector Gadget (@InspGadgetBlogs) March 28, 2020
Clearly the view of ‘best science’ experts abroad seems to rather different and most foreign news broadcasts show police officers wearing masks. All scientific advice appears to agree that masks do offer a degree of protection to those close to the wearer. Having said that, it seems that there still issues in respect of supplying all front-line NHS staff with PPE.
I put a request in for some PPE for the team (16 PCs and 2 Sgts). I asked for coveralls, masks, gloves, and hand gel. Just basics so we can protect ourselves and not take the virus home. I have been given 6 tubes of hand gel. We are also using cleaning products from home. 🙄 pic.twitter.com/xxy3fP43CT— Lee Baker (@LeeBaker0578) March 28, 2020
Police officers are, by the very nature of their duties, exposed more than most, to the virus. Like other emergency/NHS workers, many will return home wondering whether they are bringing the virus with them. Older officers in their 50’s and even sixties will consider themselves more vulnerable than their younger colleagues.
Twitter and probably other social media platforms now contain hundreds of tweets directing bile against police. Like the press, this venom comes from those on both the right and left. Just about all comments are based on media reports.
Can’t believe today’s police bashing in the media! We have had limited guidance, zero training, no precedent, working with reduced numbers and out of all of the negative stories I have seen nothing has been that bad! Shows their negativity towards us! 👮♂️🤬— RagingRozzer (@RagingRozzer) March 31, 2020
This tidal wave of hostility can only serve to make officers on the front line even more vulnerable to abuse and assault. There are a number of reports referring to officers being coughed over or otherwise threatened with CV-19. Amazingly we also have reports of NHS workers being assaulted and abused and having to conceal their NHS ID’s.
Whilst empty streets may render criminals more vulnerable to police attention, there is, in the background still the potential of gangs and what could be described as a criminal underclass, who just might turn the media vendetta against the police into something more serious akin to events of 2011. ‘Yobs’ and a cause are a dangerous combination as we have seen during the last couple of years with the advance of the right.
What we all need to remember is that police are not just enforcing government rules. They are also engaged in protecting the vulnerable: Welfare visits to the elderly, the mentally-ill, potential victims of abuse/domestic violence and others who are vulnerable for a variety of reasons will all increase during this emergency.
They will be dealt with professionalism and with compassion……..and this will be of no interest whatsoever to the police hating media or the police hating sections of the public.
Happily, officers are reporting that despite the onslaught, the public they are encountering are supportive and sympathetic. That too, will be unlikely to interest the media.