One year on since lockdown: Dedicated, brave and selfless. Norfolk Police Officers should be proud of how they have risen to the challenge
23 March 2021
Dedicated, brave and selfless. Norfolk Police Officers should be proud of how they have risen to the challenge of COVID-19, says Norfolk Police Federation Chair Andy Symonds. And yet, despite their incredible efforts since the lockdown began a year ago today, they still face a pay freeze and are without a place in the vaccination queue.
I have been astounded by my colleagues' dedication, bravery, and selflessness throughout this last year, which presented the most challenges periods I've ever seen in the police service. We saw the lack of PPE in the initial phases of this pandemic which really worried police officers who are uniquely vulnerable to this virus due to not being able in many scenarios to police from a two-metre distance.
They worried they would take this deadly virus back home with them and infect their loved ones. We saw a 21% increase in people assaulting officers in the first three months of the pandemic. The vile act of spitting being even more abhorrent as people weaponised the virus by threatening to pass it on to officers.
Through it all, officers have continued to protect the community by enforcing lockdown laws that have changed many times. Often guidance was still not forthcoming days and even weeks after the law was on the statute book. My colleagues still dealt with these changes, which felt like they were happening every week, let alone every month.
They had to pitch their enforcement at the right level, considering that many aspects of the lockdown laws were far from clear. We all saw the negative headlines in the press about officers overstepping the mark and issuing unfair fines to people. But the truth here is that despite being portrayed as the bad guys, the overwhelming public support the police and this matters. It matters because we police by consent, and through this crisis, that's precisely what we've done.
We also have to remember that policing work continues despite the extra demand placed on officers due to the pandemic. My colleagues simply got on with protecting the vulnerable by preventing and detecting crime. They still searched for missing persons, protected domestic abuse victims, supported people in mental health crisis and much more.
My detective colleagues are often forgotten, particularly during this pandemic. They have worked under immense pressures and continue to do so. They deal with high risk all day, every day. They have seen a rise in the number of processes and administrative work required of them, which people don't see. We have a shortage of officers in the detective role; that's why we've seen the introduction of direct entry detectives.
My colleagues hold a unique role in society, unlike any other. They cannot police from two metres away. We are being coughed and spat at by people who have the virus. We answered calls from both A&E and mental health units when patients have become violent. We get called to social care homes to support the staff with residents who've become agitated or violent due to their health condition. We have sat in hospitals for long periods on bed watch of a person under arrest but needs hospital treatment. We attend reports of people who've stopped breathing; we attend, give CPR and first aid before the ambulance arrive.
Now all of our NHS and social care colleagues on the frontline have been vaccinated, but not police officers. The Government has hidden behind the JCVI to refuse to prioritise officers for the vaccine because it may delay the vaccine rollout. To that, I say… rubbish!
The Government could allocate vaccines to the forces who could administer the vaccine to their officers without impacting the vaccine roll out to others on the priority list. We've been left to what feels like waiting for scraps from the table in terms of spare vaccines. I can only thank our NHS colleagues in various GP surgeries and some vaccine hubs - they themselves can't quite believe police officers have not been prioritised. They have been fantastic in making calls into our control room, offering us spare vaccines.
I can't put into words how proud and humbled I am at how my colleagues have performed during this most challenging period. However, sadly we're not out of it yet. We have the summer fast approaching and the road map dates, which will open up the country again. We'll see the demand for police services increase exponentially.
We have several local events planned that will need policing. We will see some national events which will require officers to provide mutual aid to other forces such as Devon and Cornwall for the forthcoming G7 conference. We already have the first three-week leave embargo in place for the mutual aid required commitment required for COP26 in Glasgow this November.
It is important that we recognise the service officers have given during the last year. Again, we have seen this Government fail to do this with their announcement that the public sector, excluding the NHS, will be subject to a pay freeze this year. It's another slap in the face for officers. Therefore, if we are not to be given a fair pay rise, then it is only right that officers should receive some form of financial 'thanks' for their immense response to this pandemic.
Police forces budgeted for a 2% pay rise this year which is now not happening. The least that should happen is that they use a small fraction of this budgeted pay rise money to recognise officers' efforts.