Policing is unable to go ‘back to normal'
John Apter, national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, confronts the challenge of policing as lockdown restrictions ease and looks back on a year of policing under pressure.
The way we have been expected to police during the pandemic has been completely out of touch with the British model of policing by consent, it is been alien to us all. I did not join the job expecting to tell people they can’t play football – or that they can’t get together in someone’s house or at a birthday party.
I understand why this had to be done, it is about keeping people safe but that doesn’t make it any easier and it’s not what policing should be about. Our relationship with the public is incredibly important, and Covid has tested it to the limit.
So much has been expected of policing during this difficult time, and my colleagues have absolutely stepped up and done their best in the most challenging of situations. Despite this, some have painted them as the villains of the pandemic. I accept we won’t always get things right, policing is not easy. It’s complex and challenging with police officers having to make split second decisions, but the way they have been vilified by some, without knowing the full details of the situation is grossly unfair.
Police officers now routinely do things they probably would rather not be doing. They then get lambasted in the media for being overzealous, or alternatively, criticised for not doing enough. No matter what we do, it can feel like it’s never enough.
We’ve seen public figures rush to condemn the actions of my colleagues based on snapshots of content they have seen on Twitter and other social media platforms. These ill-judged and ill-informed comments from people, often in high profile positions, have undermined policing; this has been incredibly damaging to us.
Everybody is frustrated and fed up with the restrictions we are living under. With the warmer weather, along with the easing of lockdown, mixed with that frustration will create more pressure and challenges for policing.
We haven’t had to police the night-time economy for most of the past year as pubs and clubs have been closed. When they start opening again, it will add even more pressure on officers who are already working flat out.
While the public is planning for the transition out of lockdown, for policing, it will not be a case of ‘back to normal’.
For policing, in addition to dealing with the day to day demands there are large scale events like the G7 summit in June to consider, with officers from all parts of England and Wales to assist. It is therefore morally wrong, as well as being a public health danger, that the very people who are expected to police such events have not been prioritised for the vaccine.
We can only plan for so much. In the end, it’s a question of resources, and as we have seen at protests around the country, there have been increasing requests for mutual aid as forces have to call on each other for support. The campaign to recruit 20,000 police officer is a good thing, but it’s not enough and we need to do far more than we currently do to help retain those who are leaving mid service.
I have genuine concerns about policing going forward as we ease out of lockdown. Despite what you may hear in the media, we have no ‘extra’ officers. We have no officers to spare with the demand we already have. If people knew just how few police officers were truly available, they’d be horrified.
As we do move forward, we will need to re-build relationships with many members of the public. We also need to make sure we genuinely look after our own officers and staff. The past year has been brutal for so many reasons, many of us have lost loved ones, the demand on us has been relentless and the cracks are showing. We need to make sure wellbeing is more than just a poster on a wall, it must mean something. Police officers are remarkable people, doing a difficult job. They deserve all the support they get, and that includes from the public.
This blog was first posted on the Police Federation of England and Wales website https://www.polfed.org/news/blogs/2021/blog-policing-is-unable-to-go-back-to-normal/