21 March 2021
PFEW National Chair John Apter addresses criticism of the police response to the Sarah Everard vigil and wider difficulties in policing Covid.
'The death of Sarah Everard provoked a wave of grief, public emotion and revulsion. Nobody shared those feelings more than the country’s police officers, and I know I speak for all decent, hard-working, dedicated police officers in extending our heartfelt condolences to Sarah’s family and friends.
Indeed, I have no doubt there will have been off duty or retired officers among the many who wanted to pay their respects at Clapham Common last Saturday. The event was an understandable, emotional reaction to a truly shocking event.
There has been considerable media and political comment on the policing of the event, some of it very harsh, often unfair. I would like to place on the record my thanks to the majority of the public who understand the difficult and complex job that my colleagues do, and understand also that the realities of the pandemic have added to the challenges we have faced.
Police officers do not operate independent of the law, they are duty bound to uphold it. They do not make policy decisions. They are duty bound to uphold the laws and restrictions determined by the Government, so part of their role last Saturday was to ensure as best they could that current restrictions were followed, so the public could be better protected from Covid.
The Police Federation is fully supportive of the independent report into the events of Saturday evening. Learning lessons has always been a crucial part of policing. But it is important those who continue to criticise police officers try to put themselves in the shoes of my colleagues, who have been abused, assaulted, and vilified far too often during this pandemic. Policing in the modern age is hard and complicated even without Covid. Keeping up with the ever-changing Covid rules and legislation has been an additional challenge. I sometimes feel the public has a better understanding of this than the policy-makers.
Last month, research published by PFEW showed just one in 10 police officers in England and Wales thought the police powers previously introduced to manage the COVID-19 crisis were clear. This is not a good position for police officers to be in.
We have repeatedly called on the English and Welsh Governments to stop issuing mixed messages about Covid-19 regulations to avoid further confusion when lockdown measures are finally lifted. We warned the Prime Minister not to repeat the lack of clarity over last year’s pandemic measures before he formally announced his ‘route map’ out of lockdown.
Fair-minded, Reasonable members of the public – and I know that is the majority - will agree my colleagues have faced an almost impossible task during the pandemic. At Clapham Common, or during the Black Lives Matters demonstrations, anti-lockdown or the many other protests during the pandemic, they have been damned by some when they intervene, and equally damned by others when they do not.
Most members of the public continue to offer my colleagues incredible and much welcome support. But the role of policing the lockdown has become a no-win situation for front line police officers who are simply trying to do their best.
Does the police service sometimes get things wrong? Of course, it does. Policing is complex and difficult and police officers often have to make split second decisions in very challenging circumstances. Do individual officers sometimes let their force and their colleagues down? Yes, just as individual politicians, journalists, doctors, teachers, footballers, you name it … there will always be people who do not meet the standards required of them.
But just as the vast majority of the public are fair and reasonable, so too the overwhelming majority of police officers are dedicated, competent public servants who take their responsibilities to their communities incredibly seriously.
Despite the avalanche of unfair criticism my colleagues have faced this week, they will continue to be the first to arrive whenever these same critics call us for help.
We know that good policing is policing by consent. It is why we listen to criticism, and why we are constantly striving to improve what we do. We strive for clarity in rules and restrictions, because in building that consent, we are often the people having to explain what they are. We strive for understanding of the public, because without it, we cannot properly play our role in keeping them safe.
Though it has been a difficult week, I believe that understanding to be there, and we are grateful for it.'
This article originally appeared in the Sunday Telegraph.