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Wiltshire Police Federation

Coronavirus: How Wiltshire Police prepares for the outbreak

31 March 2020

Salisbury Journal

In January 2018 Kier Pritchard was appointed temporary Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police – and plunged almost immediately into crisis planning.

In the two years since getting the top job his force has been thrown from crisis to crisis, with coronavirus the latest in a growing list.

“It’s been a rollercoaster so far,” Mr Pritchard says – perhaps an understatement.

“We’ve been in major incident mode since I started. The first weekend was Beast from the East and we had countless motorists stranded in the snow.

“We went straight into Novichock, which went through trials and tribulations for a very long time. 

"We planned for National Armed Forces Weekend in Salisbury followed by the Yellowhammer Brexit planning, which was demanding.

“We’ve then surfaced from that straight into Covid-19.”

The latest crisis could be the most challenging yet for the Chief Constable, who also leads the county’s local resilience forum.

A tenth of Wiltshire Police’s workforce is already absent, either through normal illness or because they are self-isolating. Senior officers have planned for as much as a third of the workforce being unable to work.

Some day-to-day operations have been halted in order to focus on policing basics.

The community speedwatch scheme, run by teams of volunteers many of whom are older, has been stopped.

Last week, the force closed all of its police station front desks in an attempt to dissuade people from coming in and potentially spreading the virus.

And 999 call handlers have been split between their usual home at police headquarters in Devizes and Gablecross police station.

Mr Pritchard says: “That means I can organisationally distance people providing a critical service. I’ve got teams working 24/7 out of Swindon and out of headquarters in Devizes and they don’t pass over so that will limit if any of them are symptomatic and pass it into their team unknowingly we will be able to maintain at least one site.”

The Chief Constable and his team have a daily dashboard showing demand on the force and how many in his 2,200-strong workforce are absent.

“At the moment all services are being maintained but we’ve deliberately placed several on hold,” he says.

999 calls are still being answered in under five seconds, officers were getting to emergencies within 12 minutes on average and non-emergency calls in 40 minutes.

“In terms of rural crime, organised crime, community policing, attending scenes, we are trying to maintain a core business. But as the abstraction levels change I will need to strictly review all of the non-essential parts of policing and potentially cancel them.”

Crime is likely to change during the lockdown. Officers have already seen more call domestic violence call-outs and are likely to see more cyber-enabled crime, from fraud to sexual exploitation of young people, as those stranded at home spent more and more time online.

Over the weekend stories abounded of police breaking up rammed house parties and ticketed walkers for flouting Government lockdown rules and driving miles and miles to walk in countryside beauty spots.

“If we see groups or three or more we will look to have a conversation, engage and disperse those groups because of the public health risk,” the Chief Constable says.

“If people flagrantly wish to abuse the rules and regulations, when the legislation is passed police will have the power to enforce.

“Do I want my officers to go out and enforce this day in day out? No. Of course I don’t.

“What I don’t want is for members of the public to be unnecessarily criminalised through the issuing of a fine.”