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Hertfordshire Police Federation

Policing the pandemic: praise for ‘real-life heroes’

23 March 2021

The chair of Hertfordshire Police Federation described officers’ response to the pandemic as “heroic” as he reflected on the year since the first coronavirus lockdown.

Geoff Bardell said members had been “amazing” in the face of huge adversity, including the threat of contracting Covid-19 and taking it home to loved ones.

“Our frontline officers have been amazing, pretty much working as normal, albeit masked up and trying to maintain distance when possible,” he said.

“Custody, response, neighbourhood, traffic, firearms, most detectives and investigators, control room staff, the list is endless, they could not work from home and dealt with everything thrown at them as normal.

“But there was more than normal; constant changing regulations and the virus weaponised against them. Never have officers been spat at as much as they have been during this period; all with the threat of catching the virus and then taking it home to their families. They have all been heroes, real-life heroes.

“Those working from home, although not having the constant threat of the virus while working, also had many difficulties to overcome, such as home-schooling, adapting to new ways of working or even shielding themselves if they were vulnerable.”

Geoff looked back at the early discussions at Gold Group and recalled his concerns at how the coronavirus crisis was developing.

“My initial thoughts, as a pessimist and long-term hypochondriac, were the worst,” he said, “I remember thinking ‘I don’t remember Gold Groups when SARS happened in 2002/03. This is serious’.

“Then I was included in an email that had the predictions from the Imperial College, they were horrific and I feared for everyone.”

Geoff added: “Sitting on the early Force Gold meetings were concerning. There were plans being made for huge numbers of abstractions and sickness - and worse.

“But the calm professionalism of our Gold and Silver commanders was personally uplifting for me – inspirational in fact. Recently retired ACC Nat Doust-Briant was our Gold and T/Superintendent Mike Todd our Silver. They were outstanding as was also recently retired ACC Paul Fulwood for BCH Gold.

“Within our office the day the Prime Minister announced the first lockdown, we all met two metres apart and agreed we’d keep the office open.

“We could work mainly from home, but we wanted to remain visible. We set up a rota and had a balance of office and home.

“Our secretary Al Wollaston was a complete star in those early days - and beyond, of course. That man has no fear. Well, if he does he doesn’t show it.”

Geoff said an unsung department in the Force was the ICT team, which quickly enabled people to work from home.

“I think the Force reaction was really good,” he said. “And the Herculean work of the ICT Dept to allow people the ability to work from home was amazing. A huge number of lap tops were sourced, built and distributed.”

He added: “PPE was, of course, an issue, as it was for everyone. The supply just wasn’t there in large numbers.

“I do remember discussions within the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), where some chiefs were concerned about the perception of wearing of face masks and how it would look to the public.

“I remember a call from our Chief where we discussed this. I said I couldn’t believe some were considering perception above protection for our officers.

“Our Force wore face masks from the beginning, as did all the rest subsequently.”

Geoff said that many lessons will be learned from the pandemic and the way in which it was handled. But he pointed to the positives, including the relationship building with other agencies that has allowed officers to get vaccinated.

“One of the most positive aspects has been the ability of our Force to access with short notice vaccinations for many of our frontline officers and staff,” he said.

“I know we’re the envy of many forces and almost 1,000 officers and staff have been able to access them, and get jabbed. This is through hard work, and relationship building with healthcare colleagues, by our Force.”

He added: “We didn’t hit the up to 30 per cent sickness levels we were planning for, there were no 12-hour shifts, no months and months long leave embargoes.

“Our sickness only rose to seven per cent in the first wave, and only to six per cent during the larger second wave. This was much due to planning and working practices implemented by the Force, which myself and Al were part of.

“I know the constant message from the Force about PPE and distant compliance has caused angst among members, but it was for their best interests and is reflected in the sickness figures, no doubt.”

Geoff admitted he was concerned about the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of officers and encouraged people to access help and support.

“We have assisted with huge amounts over the last year,” he said, “But having been round the Force with our Oscar Kilo welfare colleagues this week I’ve seen how upbeat and resilient so many are. Totally inspiring – real-life heroes.

“This was despite the constant barrage of criticism out there, not least from the press. If only they would report more on the 99.99 per cent of heroics rather than that tiny proportion of failings.”

Geoff added: “Actually coming in to the office on an increasing basis has helped my own mental health. Seeing my frontline colleagues performing as usual has been inspirational. They’ve got me through, without knowing, from what was a really tough first couple of weeks.

“There was, of course, plenty of takeaway curries and red wine – probably too much at times - but the diet is on and the lockdown tummy is under attack.

“Oh, and I had my first jab last week.”