2020 has been a tough year. Arguably the toughest for generations. A great deal has been asked of, and delivered by, our public services. Like you, I’m grateful to all those front-line workers who have gone the extra mile to support and protect our community.
The role played by the Police has been widely overlooked. They have trodden the fine line between engagement and enforcement throughout the pandemic. The government did not make it easy. The legislation, regulation and guidance was frequently unclear, often absurd, and in some cases entirely absent. The latest ‘Covid-19 Winter Plan’ is no improvement. To put in bluntly, the Police are being asked to police the unpoliceable.
Here in Leicestershire, the Police rose to the challenge with great professionalism and will continue to do so. In the event of an emergency, 999 calls are overwhelmingly answered within 10 seconds. Officers are generally at the scene inside 20 minutes – pandemic or no pandemic. In return for this dedication, the thin blue line has been rewarded with what the Chancellor ludicrously describes as a pay ‘pause’. Let’s call a spade a spade; once inflation is taken into account, the Police just took a pay cut.
To make matters worse, the government has also demanded another £120m in efficiency savings -more pressure after a decade of austerity. Local councils face similar challenges. Inevitably, this will lead to further reductions in areas such as mental health and youth services. This places even more pressure on policing. The Police are the emergency service of last resort. There is no-one else left.
Policing is a front-line service. As you read these words, officers are out on the streets engaging with members of the public who may, or may not, have COVID-19. Police officers themselves may unwittingly be spreading it. Mass testing with rapid results and fully effective contact tracing - if it arrives - will help, but vaccination is the only real solution.
I fully agree with the plans for vaccinating NHS staff, careworkers and the extremely vulnerable. That said, I feel that it is both unfair and short-sighted not to provide the Police with priority access to the vaccine programme. The thin blue line is already stretched thin. Consider the risk to public safety if large numbers of police officers were required to self-isolate at the same?
I recognise that much of the private sector is going through a tough time. Unemployment is rising and the situation may get worse before it gets better, but don’t kid yourself for a moment that public sector workers, particularly the police, have it easy – they don’t!
Policing a national health emergency was never going to be easy, but they are doing it, day in day out, to keep us safe.
27 November 2020
Posted on Friday 27th November 2020