“Policing Coronavirus and beyond”

Owl has posted a number of comments relating to the problems of holding local elections in May. One of these is how difficult candidates will find it to canvas, especially those challenging the sitting incumbent. 

Owl has received this opinion piece from one challenger to be Police and Crime Commissioner, other challengers are welcome to submit pieces for Owl to consider publishing.

An opinion piece from Gareth Derrick, Labour Party candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner, entitled:

“Policing Coronavirus and Beyond”. 

Already 2021 has added so much to the challenges of policing that have emerged since Covid-19 began to tear through the UK. Across the country forces adapted to meet an increasing need for the “policing” of coronavirus guidance, the rules, and ultimately the law. But there is much more to be done.

In Devon and Cornwall, a drop-off in “traditional” crime reporting amounted to around 11% opening up scope for the police to deploy extra resources to the “front-line,” working to combat the spread of infection. They have performed admirably, but it’s no surprise working in close contact with the public that police officers and staff have become infected, leading to sickness rates of around 10% at present. This is not alarming yet, but it adds much weight to the argument that it’s a good investment to vaccinate all front-line staff from care workers to police officers and staff. If the next few months of vaccination effort do not go well, it might just be too late.

Commissioner Alison Hernandez made much about giving Special Constables a one-off payment if they commit to eight shifts above their normal voluntary commitment. They could earn £750 which by my reckoning is about £12 per hour. Sadly, with just a small number of “Specials” it will make limited impact and reflects badly on how commitments to front-line duty are valued. The annual “summer surge” should already have taught us that when resources are pared to the bone even in a national crisis, a properly established reserve capability is vital, where trained officer and civilian staff reservists are held at readiness and employed on a salaried basis to allow high levels of police demand to be met. My experience as the Commanding Officer for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Reserves, deploying people world-wide, tells me that this offers tremendous operational flexibility and a powerful connection between the individuals and the communities they serve which is worth its weight in gold.

The “clarity of the rules” for Covid has often been drawn into question, not helped by the disparities over “guidance”, “rules”, and what is actually a matter of law. There have been numerous examples of those in authority flouting the rules from the notorious Dominic Cummings’ eyesight check, driving across the country during lockdown, and perhaps even Boris Johnson’s seven-mile cycle-rides. The reality is that most people are very aware of the rules but many choose not to stick by them. We are not actually at war, nor fighting organised crime in respect of Covid, so in a public health crisis like this we should expect good old fashioned team spirit and public cooperation. I have strongly supported the Chief Constable’s approach to this focusing initially on “engage,” “explain,” and “encourage” before moving to enforcement. But, as we descend into new depths of this crisis in January 2021, I would expect that plans are in place to be ready for a rapid shift to new “Rules of Engagement” where little quarter is given to those that choose to break the law. Added to that, the police should be ensuring that they are exemplary in allowing non-frontline staff to work from home. If that means making investment in technology, so be it. A dispersed and secure workforce is often more resilient than a centralised one, and the challenges of Covid and its potential successors may be around for a long time.

So, standing for election to become Police and Crime Commissioner from May this year, my priorities in respect of the Covid response would be four-pronged. Making the case for early vaccination of front-line police personnel as soon as the highly vulnerable groups are safe. Taking immediate steps to establish a professional police reserve capability to provide operational “flex” in both the uniformed and the civilian staff. Prioritising investment in technology to create added resilience in the police workforce by minimising the need for office working. Being ready to upshift the police response at short notice, closer to “zero tolerance” but finding the delicate balance between handling the crisis firmly and public consent. Lives and livelihoods are in peril to an extent rarely seen outside war, so these investments are worth making. We will come out of this pandemic, and when we do they will have paid back many-fold. Just as in 1945, much of what we learn during this trauma will help to reset our society, allowing us to see with greater clarity how our future can be better shaped. 

    Gareth Derrick

       Labour Party candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner

    Devon and Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly