2 March: Justice Week 2021 – Policing the pandemic
02 March 2021
Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney and Chair of the Local Criminal Justice Board talks about how when the pandemic hit, policing started from the position of protecting the NHS and saving lives. The Chief Constable outlines the importance of staff wellbeing, how the job of policing shifted with new laws and responsibilities, balancing the restrictions with the 4Es policing approach and the impact on the wider criminal justice system.
The COVID-19 pandemic put us as a constabulary in place we had never been before. We provide essential services and are a monopoly provider. In order to deliver those services to the public we started from the position of protecting the NHS and saving lives – we didn’t want to be spreaders of this dreadful virus to the public, and you cannot police at 2 metres. I also put the wellbeing of our staff at the heart of our approach because it was the right thing to do and also without them we could not do our very best for our local communities. The wellbeing of our staff has been a focus for our force for the last five years, with the financial investment and support of the Police and Crime Commissioner, so we had a strong and well workforce when the pandemic hit. It is because of this that we had more police officers and staff at work than ever, with one of the lowest sickness rates of forces from across the country. We also have had great support from our volunteer Special Constables.
In Hampshire Constabulary we changed our organisational model to deliver policing to meet the demands of the changed and changing landscape, the detail of which none of us could have predicted. The policing job shifted, and we instantly adapted our delivery and stepped up to the challenge we collectively faced to fight the virus:
We were given new responsibilities to police COVID-19 compliance and regulation, meaning a new set of laws and responsibilities falling to policing to support public health, protect the NHS and save lives – policing had never had duties and powers like this before. These understandably came in swiftly when we were all adapting to the pandemic and we needed to understand new law at pace, and implement instantly. Police officers needed to learn these new laws which had sometimes changed once more when they returned from rest days! Officers and staff adapted brilliantly.
To balance all of the new restrictions placed on our communities during this highly uncertain time, we policed using the 4Es to engage, explain and encourage and only after these, to enforce. This stood us in good stead and really kept the confidence of our communities. This was so important to me as Chief Constable as we can only police by consent and we need our communities to trust us, even more than we ever did, once this pandemic is over. We couldn’t and didn’t want to alienate the communities we serve and needed to tread that line delicately and, from the feedback we have had from our communities, I know we have.
With home not being the safest place for everyone we also shifted even more towards ‘harms at home’ and kept alert and receptive to incidents of domestic abuse and abuse of the elderly and the young.
Criminals were swift and creative in changing how they made their money – it was harder to move drugs around with no cars on the road, but drug markets were still there and the associated violence, abuse and fear didn’t stop.
We moved our conversations with communities online – we found that people came to the constabulary for accurate general information at times of major COVID changes. In some weeks, we had upward of 4 million social media engagements, delivered by our dedicated neighbourhood policing teams.
As the lockdown restrictions have changed and evolved over time we have now moved to the fourth E of enforcement more quickly. Everyone has now had the time to be clear on the restrictions and it was the right time to step up enforcement. We know that is what our communities wanted and people have expected that. This has been effective because we have shifted with public mood, need and expectations.
When the pandemic struck, aside from the very real health concerns, my next worry was the impact on criminal justice. Instantly and throughout the pandemic we have worked closely with our immediate and close partners across our geography, coming together to lead the Criminal Justice System Recovery Group. The Group came together to manage and tackle the collective challenges we all faced and has enabled the system to adapt and flex, enabling delivery of justice we best we can. There are still major concerns and the criminal justice system will take a long time to get back to where it was, but we doing as well here as anywhere in the country. That is all down to great staff in every part of the criminal justice agencies, and great understanding between each of those moving parts.
After a year of restrictions, as we work through to the PM’s road map and the easing of lockdown restrictions, we are all likely to see a summer like never before and policing is ready for that. We have been in the positive position of being able to recruit new officers during the pandemic. These officers have been trained and gained their experience in a very different policing environment, for instance they have not been part of policing the city centre Saturday nights, or policing large crowds. Nevertheless, we will do what we do exceptionally well, planning for and responding to both immediate and emerging demands, whilst keeping close to communities as we do.
Last March I said to my staff “none of us have done this before, but if anyone can do it well, the people in Hampshire Constabulary can”. That has proved to be true.
Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney
Chair of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Criminal Justice Board