16 March 2021
Sam Dobbs had only recently been appointed as the new Chair of Northamptonshire Police Federation when the pandemic struck one year ago. He looks back on a baptism of fire and the impact of Covid-19.
The first time I took proper notice of the pandemic was during a holiday in Kuwait in February last year. I saw lockdown measures for the first time and then arrived back in the UK to see life here was continuing as normal. I knew exactly what was coming.
Days later in my new role as Chair, I attended my first Gold Group meeting with my Deputy Chief Constable and heard him speak about the ‘long haul’. He used the phrase: ‘We need to establish a battle rhythm’ – slow at first, faster as the crisis develops – and this really struck a chord with me about the magnitude of things. It was my first indication this was going to be something big and protracted.
I remember it took a while to register this was going to be serious. Also in the first lockdown, I recall that one of the biggest issues was getting members used to a new policing normality where criminality - and all our usual tasks - suddenly dipped. We had to adjust to much lower demand, and this was completely counterintuitive to us all.
While we all know the rules of the lockdown now, then it was alien to us. The difference was also it wasn’t a winter lockdown. It was a spring and summer lockdown and people intuitively wanted to be outside. While this was a huge challenge to our members, they genuinely rose to the challenge.
Sadly, throughout Covid we dealt with members who had family members who died and could not have funerals. Many others suddenly had to think – what do I do with the kids, or what do I do as my wife or husband is a nurse? At the Fed, we also had to arrange temporary accommodation for those who needed to self-isolate.
Obviously, there were also heart-breaking moments. One colleague filmed himself in an intensive care ward - somebody who was generally fit and healthy, and not in a risk group.
He sent us a video of himself hooked up to oxygen because he wanted us to tell his parents where his will and his insurance details were - and he was not expecting to last the night. That was for me, one of the most horrific things in policing to ever have to experience.
However, on the positive side, the pandemic exposed me very early on in my career as a branch Chair to the roles of our national PFEW team. I don’t know what I’d have done without recourse to people like National Treasurer Simon Kempton and the guiding help of our National Chair John Apter.
I honestly believe there will also be a lasting legacy to this terrible year, and the service won’t come out badly. While there have been pockets of issues, policing will have shown that it did what it does best - that is to respond magnificently to a crisis. It certainly brought out the best of our members, and this legacy is something the Federation and service will be proud of for many years to come.