Forces start to feel the strain as coronavirus culls officer numbers

Nearly one in five officers and staff at the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) are unavailable for duty because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mar 25, 2020
By Tony Thompson
Ken Marsh

Ken Marsh, chair of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said 19 per cent of police, civilian and community support officers were not available for duty because they either had Covid-19 themselves or were self-isolating because they were displaying associated symptoms.

London is the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK, and Mr Marsh said 2,100 of the MPS’s 31,000 officers were off work, including one high-ranking officer. No figures were available for police staff or police community support officers.

Forces nationwide are also reporting higher than average levels of sickness during the pandemic – up from six per cent to ten per cent in Devon and Cornwall, while rates in Northamptonshire have doubled to around eight per cent.

As the number of those infected continues to grow, some forces are already making contingency plans for as many as 40 per cent of officers and staff to be absent.

The Armed Forces could also be called in to help police enforce measures introduced under the ‘lockdown’, such as breaking up social gatherings, maintaining public order in supermarkets and checking that people have genuine reasons to be leaving their homes.

Mr Marsh said: “The Army is already in place on the outskirts of London and across the country. And I don’t doubt for one minute that they will be called if needed. It could be tailored in quite quickly and everything is on the table.”

The Government has confirmed that new legislation allowing the police to issue a minimum fine of £30 for breaching restrictions imposed during the lockdown will be available from Thursday (March 26). Fines will increase up to £1,000 and refusal to pay will be a criminal offence.

Many forces are still encountering clear breaches of government advice. A barbecue attended by more than 20 people in a Coventry car park, a group of young adults on a beach in Tynemouth, North Tyneside, and a football match in Wiltshire were among events shut down by police in recent days.

Three venues in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, are also being investigated over allegations they remained open despite being ordered to close.

A lack of clarity over the new measures means they are being interpreted differently by forces. In Nottinghamshire and Dorset, officers are stopping vehicles to check where the occupants are going and advise them as to whether they should be out.

In the capital, 500 officers from British Transport Police joined commuters on the London Underground this morning (March 25) to check whether the journeys being made were essential.

Sir Peter Fahy, former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, told BBC Breakfast this week that there was “a huge amount of clarification needed”, adding: “We don’t really want 43 separate police forces in England and Wales interpreting this in different ways and individual officers being faced with real dilemmas about whether to allow this or not to allow it.”

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