They are expected to enforce the law, and I'm sure all right-thinking people will support them on that. But they'll still face criticism from a small minority who, no doubt, will be bleating on about civil liberties, and "heavy-handed tactics."
Some forces have, quite rightly, in my opinion, been slammed for what appears, through video footage broadcast by the news media and on social media channels, to be completely unacceptable behaviour. But we must remember they are only human, and doing an extremely difficult job in very trying circumstances. They would need to be super human not to react to some of the deliberate provocation thrown at them.
But it can be done. I'd suggest that forces around the country take a leaf out of my local force, the Leicestershire Constabulary's book. Only the other day one of their cars was damaged as they dispersed a large gathering which broke lockdown rules. But officers carried out their duties efficiently and respectfully, as they have done throughout this entire pandemic.
What makes Leicestershire Police so much better than many other forces? In my opinion: leadership. Our Chief Constable, Simon Cole, is the best there is. And it shows, not only in how his officers conduct themselves, but in how they're perceived, as well. And this makes all the difference.
For officers and staff at Leicestershire Police, the past year has brought many challenges - both professionally and personally - as they have continued to work throughout the global pandemic, adapting to new laws, adjusting to new protective clothing and equipment and working in environments and circumstances which have never been experienced before – all, while continuing to fight crime and protect our communities.
Our Chief Constable, Simon Cole, has provided the following guest post for my blog.
When lockdown came in last year it confirmed more widely what had been a gathering storm professionally for some while. I chair the Local Resilience Forum for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland and we had been watching the clouds gather, all the time checking our contingency plans and trying to ensure that we were all as ready as we could be and coordinated across agencies.
It was clear that the health service would be needing support. I sat in demanding meetings about epidemiology and mortuary capacity. When the Director of Public Health for Leicestershire and Rutland told me on 6 March 2020 that we had our first case, it became all too real.
I then had an on call incident in the middle of the night where the deceased appeared to have just travelled back from China; discussing PPE and safe ways of working in the wee small hours brought it all home to me – the storm had broken. It still hasn’t finished.
Away from work I think it’s natural to think about your family and friends. Can I see Mum? How will my sister, not long clear of leukaemia after a three year battle, do? My wife and both children all work or study in schools and at university; what does it mean for them with GCSEs, and ‘time of your life’ university partying (should that say studying?)? I have friends who run their own businesses, a lettings agent, a driving instructor, how do they work? What is a furlough? Will that Frank Turner gig go ahead? (It didn’t). What will happen to the fixtures lined up for the girls’ team that I coach rugby to every week? (They were all scrapped). Will the Tigers avoid relegation and will I get to see it if they do (Only just, and only on the telly!)?
Bluntly the summer was tough going for all of the public services with the city and parts of Leicestershire announced as a protected area for public health reasons. I am struck as I write this that the level of illness then - 135 cases per 100,000 citizens - is one that pretty much everywhere has massively exceeded as the year has progressed. Professionally we found ourselves in the eye of the storm, with the rest of the country heading out of the lockdown and the pubs opening; we had both a lockdown, and the pubs opening in some parts of the Force at the same time!
The Force response was committed and magnificent. Colleagues found themselves being pursued by TV crews as they set out on patrol from Spinney Hill with PPE on. I will never forget being sat in the nick there eating curry, produced by one of our excellent PCSOs, with colleagues watching themselves on TV patrolling streets empty other than reporters, and laughing at the somewhat unflattering low angle action shots of their backsides being splashed all over national news! Meanwhile I found myself in meetings about COVID with, amongst many, the PM, Home Secretary, Health Secretary, MPs, PCC, local councillors, as well as with the operational parts of lots of partner agencies, and the brilliant voluntary sector. It was full on. I also found myself briefing other Forces and partners elsewhere about some of the challenges, and what we had learnt. That included some foreign interest as other nations have wrestled with COVID too.
At home, lone bike rides, both actual bike rides on real roads and in the garage on the turbo trainer on virtual roads, became interspersed with DIY circuits in the garden with the teenagers. We have probably spent more time together as a family than we ever thought that we would; sometimes not ideal, but along the way some good memories have sneaked in…film night, getting the barbecue up and running, a family walk or two. Be grateful for what you have, not what you haven’t got.
I guess that I am not alone in feeling that the novelty has now worn off. My role is still the same as Chief Constable, but the context has changed. It is very upsetting to think how many people have died, and to see just how hard our health colleagues are working. I get cross when I see people ignoring the regulations that so many have stuck to throughout. It seems very selfish to me. This isn’t easy for anyone, but if we stick together then we will all do better than if we don’t. Please don’t put my colleagues at risk for the sake of something trivial, they deserve better.
We’ve also upped our wellbeing work another notch - and it was turned up pretty high already. That will never change back. Checking if everyone is ok in this disconnected world is crucial, and totally natural. That will sustain ahead. Our digital access points have become used more and more; we have dealt with almost 17,000 online reports of all sorts of things. The national work that I lead on, a single online home for policing, set up an online COVID contact service for policing in a weekend back in March 2020; as I type it has had over 1 million contacts so far.
We’ve also been able to focus on offenders. The absence of the night time economy has made us realise how much of our resource that takes up, both on the night itself and across the following day as those that we’ve arrested sober up and are ready to be dealt with. That time has been refocused on organised crime groups, county lines drugs dealers and safeguarding people. The criminals that make life a misery have had nowhere to hide in a world where there just aren’t that many people out and about.
It would, strangely, feel good to be able to worry about the teenagers because they are out, not because they are in!
These things will come. There is hope. One of those hopes is that we can look back and say that we played our part, and that we did our best. But it's not yet the time for looking back. It’s the time to keep on keeping on.