Senior Lecturer and Course Leader for the BSc Policing and Criminal Investigation degree, Ian Ackerley reflects on the role of police during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sunday 19th April 2020 represented nine years since my beloved football team Stoke City played a memorable FA Cup semi-final at Wembley Stadium beating Bolton Wanderers 5-0, an important detail for the near 50,000 Stokies who travelled south to London that day.
At a loss for something useful to do during the current lockdown I watched some footage of the build up to the game revelling in the atmosphere whilst at the same time looking with incredulity at how close everyone was in an age where there was no concept of or need for social distancing. After 34 years as a police officer and more recently as a university lecturer in policing, the images of people celebrating success caused me to reflect on how quickly times have changed.
It is a tribute to the resilience, adaptability and sense of fair play of communities that the police have not had an even tougher job in responding to the new norms of social order which for the most part appear to have been respected impeccably. The service has approached its duties with the pragmatism that those of us who have served would expect. The Service’s strategy of Engage, Explain, Encourage and Enforce is perfectly reasonable combining and passing the Human Rights Act 1998 tests of legality, necessity and proportionality. In addition, where officers have made mistakes whether well intentioned or foolishly the police have responded and apologised with good grace and in a timely manner.
Against this backdrop it is sad that the prevailing narrative has, in some parts of the press, been dominated by a portrayal of the police as idiotic, overzealous and hypocritical. Such approaches at worst deny and at best fail to recognise the commitment of officers and police staff the length and breadth of the country. Whilst crime as a whole may have dropped, the complexity of domestic abuse, child protection and online criminality adds massively to the myriad tasks being undertaken by officers and staff. The service has acted both proactively to identify breaches of the regulations and reactively to multiple calls from the public concerned about individuals and groups not complying with the social distancing rules. Police officers and police staff have played and continue to play a unique and vital part in ensuring that people stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.
Whenever the new normality emerges from the containment of Covid-19 there will, amongst many other things, be reflections, recriminations, structured debriefs and inevitably a public enquiry. From my knowledge of the Police Service I am certain that it will embrace and respond to their conclusions.