Blog by Chief Constable Andy Rhodes, Service Director for the NPWS.

Frontline officers and staff are playing a critical role in the response to this global crisis and we can’t thank you enough for the work you are doing.

You should all, frontline, or support staff, be very proud of the roles you are all playing in our national effort to keep the public safe, protect the NHS and ultimately, save lives.

Whilst some of our staff are able to work from home, many cannot, and we’ve been working with Public Health England to update their First Responder Guidance to ensure that you have the guidance you need about staying safe in work. Read the updated guidance here

We are also working with other NPCC work streams to help them as they develop new guidance around key issues such as HR policies and PPE.

Here at Oscar Kilo we are keeping our ears to the ground via our well-established networks so that we can pick up and address issues that are causing anxiety and stress. 

Sometimes the confusion and not knowing where we stand is more stressful than the job itself and so we are trying to provide as many facts as we can although things are happening so fast you’ll have to bear with us.

Worry 1 – How can I apply the Government’s social distancing (SD) measures when I work in policing?

I’ll be 100% honest with you here – whilst many of our people can do a lot to apply SD measures with plenty working from home, the vast majority cannot go as far as we are asking the public to.  

Our job brings us into contact with the public – and each other – on a daily basis so it is imperative we do not kid ourselves and we must simply just do our best. 

Firstly, it is important to remind ourselves how COVID-19 is transmitted.

It is not airborne so you can’t catch it simply by breathing in air. It’s transmitted by an infected person coughing or sneezing which then causes droplets from their nose or mouth to be released. These droplets are then either breathed in by someone near them or the droplets land on objects and surfaces which are then touched by other people which is why personal hygiene, cleaning surfaces and social distancing are so important (Read more on Coronavirus transmission from the WHO)

Your force will be putting their own advice and policies in place and communicating those clearly to you, but here is a good list of things to consider from us if your role requires you to be in work:-

If you are mainly office based 

  • In office spaces, think about some new ways of working. Simple things like ‘one in the kitchen at once’ and spreading apart across a different office layout all help.
  • Of course, wash hands, avoid touching your face, disinfect handles and keyboards regularly and when talking to each other, stay further apart. 
  • Do more by virtual conferencing, group chats etc.
  • If possible, discourage non-essential visitors into your space by posting signs up politely reducing footfall.
  • Before entering your workspace use hand sanitiser and the same on leaving.

If you are in a public facing role 

We have worked with the NPCC to develop PPE guidance to follow in various operational situations such as sudden deaths, which we’ll signpost to from here as soon as it is ready. 

Here’s a ‘real-life’ example that might be helpful. This week, I went out on patrol and attended a domestic incident with two officers from Blackpool police. I observed some sensible changes to normal behaviours that I think represent ‘doing the best you can’ in such unprecedented times which I’ll share with you here.  

  • When you’re entering a confined space and so close contact with each other and the public is impossible to avoid, you can politely insist they do not close in on your 2m distance.
  • On this occasion, the officers instructed the male to go outside (accepting it was fine weather) to continue the conversation.
  • The officers regularly re-positioned themselves to try their best to maintain distance and instructed the residents to handle their own clothing / possessions
  • On leaving the address, both officers used personal issue alcohol based hand sanitiser gel before driving away trying their best to keep the vehicle as clean as possible.

Threatening behaviour

There are incidents occurring where offenders are threatening officers / staff and coughing / spitting whilst claiming to have COVID-19. It’s something I’ve noticed happening abroad as well although thankfully, a relatively small number of cases. 

When arrests are made for this type of behaviour, it is essential the 7-point assaults plan is followed and additional evidence about the threatening behaviour is provided to the CPS and courts. 

Another ‘real-life’ example – On 25th March, Blackburn Magistrates sentenced a man who threatened Lancashire officers in this way and he was sentenced to 26 weeks in prison. 

Worry 2 – I work in custody and I’m worried about maintaining distance 

Again, this is challenging and previous information about PPE etc has been provided. Just like in the domestic incident I mentioned earlier, some changes to behaviours can help extend distance and it is essential that personal measures such as washing hands with soap and water regularly etc are followed. 

Also, consider putting arrangements in place locally to reduce contact that is required for DNA swabs etc. If the person you are dealing with is well known, then consider whether it is essential but work this out with local supervision.

Worry 3 – Contributing whilst isolating 

If you have to isolate yourself because you are personally experiencing symptoms, then it’s going to be lonely and you’ll be thinking about your colleagues who are still working. You might start to experience feelings of guilt.

Remember, you are not ‘letting the side down’ if you are unable to come into work – you are doing the right thing. You spend your careers keeping people safe, and that’s exactly what you’re doing by staying at home.

If you are well and isolating due to a family member displaying symptoms, then contact your line manager and see what you can do to help remotely. Even sending your mates supportive messages and keeping the morale going is a positive contribution.  

Focus on the time when your isolation has ended and what you’ll bring back to the team. Maybe you’ve decided to spend your time usefully looking at the Oscar Kilo website and becoming the team ‘go-to’ person for the latest information and updates!

The final thing I would say is, in work, working from home, or not in work at all temporarily, keep in touch with your organisation, know what processes are being put in place in your force, if you need help, contact your line manager or occupational health and above all, look after yourselves.