Supporting cops deployed to the British Virgin Islands
Tuesday, 24 October 2017
Simon Kempton, operational policing lead for the Police Federation of England and Wales discusses the enduring solidarity of police officers providing aid to the British Virgin Islands (BVI).
It’s instinctive for police officers to help people in distress; not to flail in challenging circumstances, but to face issues head on.
When hurricane Irma struck the BVI, families, homes and communities were left completely devastated. There was no running water, no electricity, supplies were short and people were left destitute. As if that wasn’t enough, the entire prison population had escaped – it was a terrifying place to be. Incredibly conditions outside prison grounds were so bad, some actually chose to return and remain in lockdown where the mood is still fraught.
Yet more than 150 police officers representing the majority of forces in England and Wales have volunteered to join a combined military aid effort with the Royal Marines to help those severely in need.
Set to experience grave and shocking conditions, these officers faced a number of unknowns. The true scale of just how severe things were included 12+ hour shifts in stifling heat and humidity, e-coli contaminated water, food rations and enforcing curfews due to escalating crime. Safety was further compromised with the approach of tropical storm Maria.
From a Federation point of view, our focus has been to ensure those deployed are properly supported and equipped. Mental and physical strength is paramount, and we have been working closely with the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), the National Police Co-ordination Centre (NPoCC), forces and local federations to talk essentials, kit, insurance, pay, communications, repatriation and much more.
Working closely with NPoCC, it was and still is essential that officers are not doing anything that they haven’t been trained to do. Every officer is needed on the streets of the islands to provide reassurance and stop looting. Now that things have calmed down somewhat, officers have designated shift patterns and are working well with local officers who have been impressed with our style of engaging policing.
Despite heart-breaking devastation, morale remains high and officers are still happy to be part of the ongoing aid effort – they are a credit to us all. Their dedication to helping others doesn’t stop when their shift stops. Many colleagues are using their own downtime to help re-build communities from the ground up. Shelter, sanitation and distribution of food are just some of the many things officers are playing an extra role in delivering. If they didn’t have to stop and sleep, many wouldn’t.
Some have questioned why we are out there exposing our officers to these conditions while we are short staffed here. It’s worth pointing out that the inhabitants of the BVI are UK passport holders and have the same right to expect assistance in an emergency as someone living in Liverpool, Lowestoft or London.
Back home our already depleted forces are working harder than ever and their contribution to the aid effort also cannot be underestimated.
Local forces and Federations are working hard to raise funds for those affected. For example, a group of officers from Cambridgeshire are filling shoe boxes with essentials for kids and an officer from Thames Valley is pulling together a collection of bikes and power tools. But getting these to the islands is not easy and at the moment we are being advised to donate to the British Red Cross, who are still active on the islands and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.