20 April 2021
Derbyshire Police Federation chair Tony Wetton has welcomed a report from the inspectorate of constabulary which praises the policing of the pandemic while acknowledging the difficulties officers have faced.
The report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) praised forces for their ‘immediate and decisive’ action in responding to the extreme circumstances of the pandemic.
Inspectors acknowledged there were some inconsistencies in how forces responded but also highlighted that the fast-paced announcement and introduction of new legislation affected their ability to produce timely and clear guidance for officers and staff.
The report, following an inspection of policing between March and November last year, concluded there was some confusion over the difference between legislation and Government guidance with the inspectorate stressing that the police can only enforce legislation.
Responding to the report, Tony said: “I am pleased that this inspection has looked into the police service’s response to the pandemic and that the inspector has praised forces. From the very start of the pandemic, police officers have been on the frontline, putting their health at risk while seeking to serve the public and protect the over-stretched NHS.
“It has been far from easy. They have been spat at and coughed over by people claiming to have the virus, they have been criticised for being too ‘soft’, they have been accused of being too tough on people but many have failed to acknowledge the real difficulties they have faced.
“Forces, and individual officers, have had to learn and adapt along the way. They would get used to one round of guidance and legislation when suddenly it would all change again. I am sure most would acknowledge some mistakes have been made but on the whole I think the police service has risen to the challenge of policing the pandemic while also facing their own personal difficulties just like everyone else over the last year.”
HMICFRS said demand on policing changed during the first lockdown. There were fewer reports of some crimes, such as theft and robbery, and an increased need to support the work of other frontline services as well as enforcing lockdown restrictions. This change meant forces used their resources differently. For example, some forces were able to clear backlogs of outstanding arrest warrants.
The inspectorate acknowledged the criticism some forces faced for their interpretation of lockdown restrictions, including undertaking road checks to identify unnecessary journeys, drone surveillance, and police action in relation to non-essential shopping and what was thought to be excessive exercise.
While these actions were viewed by some as heavy-handed or inconsistent, inspectors were assured that police forces had learnt from these instances and in general did well to maintain public trust.
Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Matt Parr said: “In these unprecedented times, the public looked to the police to continue to keep them safe and to keep order. While daily life substantially changed for the majority of us, the police were expected to continue to carry out their duties.
“Overall, the police rose to the challenge with dedication and commitment by taking immediate and decisive action to keep people safe and prevent crime, while also learning lessons from the rare occasions that they got it wrong.
“We know that police officers are on the frontline of Covid-19, with some tragically losing their lives to the virus. I offer our condolences to all those who have lost relatives, friends or colleagues.
“We have made recommendations to help the police improve their response to the pandemic, and to prevent existing issues in policing being made worse. The police, the criminal justice system and Government need to work together to solve these problems.”
The inspection found that police forces introduced new ways of working during the pandemic that could provide future benefits to policing, such as incorporating video conferencing technology in order to continue working with local safeguarding services.
However, some of the new ways of working adopted by police forces during the pandemic may not be right for the long-term. For example, to reduce infection risks some forces initially screened out more crimes that were unlikely to be solved, dealt with more victims indirectly, or reduced their in-person visits to offenders.
HMICFRS said that while these changes were sensible at the beginning of pandemic, forces should consider the effect they could have on the public.
It made several recommendations to police forces, including:
HMICFRS has also today published a separate report about how police custody services in England and Wales operated during the pandemic.
The inspection found that police forces need to collect comprehensive and accurate information to assess the ongoing impact that Covid-19 and changes to working arrangements are having on custody services.