We are entering – to say the least – challenging times.
Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is already bringing many, many, issues for policing, health and political leaders across the world to grapple with. For those in policing, business continuity in the workforce will be key, with support to other public services not far behind. The maintenance of public order may well become an issue, particularly if, as expected, disruption becomes protracted and people tire of the necessary restrictions placed on them by governments. Organised crime will inevitably be looking for the opportunities that the situation presents, then finding and exploiting them. And there are growing concerns that, behind closed doors, domestic violence will grow.
Policing Insight was launched in 2015 as an online specialist magazine focusing on policing in the United Kingdom. Over the past five years, we’ve very substantially grown our international profile, coverage and readership. Whilst we have a growing number of team members based overseas (for example, in Australia), most of our team are based in the UK, as indeed am I. For this reason, my article focuses primarily on the UK, though we’ll be seeking (and would very much welcome) broader international policing perspectives on the Coronavirus response.
As Publisher of Policing Insight, my expertise lies neither in detailed planning and delivery of operational policing, nor indeed in the wider health implications of tackling a pandemic. I realise that I’m therefore well advised not to pontificate on either. However, I judge I am well positioned to comment on three areas relating to the local, regional and global policing implications of this Coronavirus pandemic.
Maintaining the wellbeing and coherence of our police workforce
British citizens like to think that they have the finest police service in the world – and members of that service are generally only too happy to agree with them. But sometimes the claim can ring somewhat hollow, not least in recent times when the strain of years of aggressive cuts to resourcing, here in the UK, really began to bite.
That said, the UK policing response to this crisis has got off to a really good start. The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) line has been sure-footed, thoughtful, restrained and calm – and the relationships between all levels of the service appear excellent.
In what is a stark contrast to some major policing events in recent years, the Police Federation has been pretty effusive in their praise for senior managers. Sam Dobbs, Chairman of Northamptonshire Police Federation, is not untypical when he writes on the local Federation Website: “If I were to be critical in any way of the Force plans to what will now be a very challenging year for every facet of our society, that criticism would be that the force’s plans are so advanced, detailed and informed that some of us find it difficult to catch up and keep up!”
While this is, of course, very encouraging to hear, we cannot ignore the fact that police resources have been severely depleted over the last decade and it would be fair to say that our own UK police service is not in the rudest of health as it enters yet another highly challenging period.
As members of society, we are likely to be asking a lot of policing in the coming months and it is both in our interests and also the right thing to do that we should look after officers, staff, volunteers and their families. The coherence of the police service thus far, at least here in the UK, is highly encouraging.
Ensuring clear policing communication with the public
Again here in the UK, there’s been growing press coverage that, as the Coronavirus impact grows, our police will increasingly prioritise time-sensitive investigations and serious crime, focusing on cases involving the loss of life or risk to life. Of course, there could also be considerable public order demands.
One communications expert I have a very great deal of time for is Dan Slee: Dan’s articles have regularly been published in Policing Insight. Dan has recently written about communication in the Coronavirus pandemic, and used Michael Caine’s role in the film Zulu to illustrate what he described as “The Three Pillars of Trust”. Although his article focused on communication of health-related points to the public during the pandemic, his points equally apply to what are likely to be the growing need for policing to set out and explain to the public how it is tackling the Coronavirus challenge.
Two key headlines from his article: “Put the doctor up, stupid”, and “Journalists have a role to play too”. Substitute “police officer” for “doctor” – at the right times as the pandemic develops – and the key message for policing should be clear.
For our part, our brilliant Policing Insight team, whether our journalists or our backroom staff, will aim to identify examples of best practice and innovative and effective approaches to managing the crisis from across the United Kingdom and beyond. We’ll aim to share these with our readers as soon as we hear of them and, as ever, we strongly encourage our readers to use this site to share their ideas, experiences and initiatives with the wider international police community. Well over 150,000 police officers, staff and volunteers in several countries have subscriber access to our site, and we’re confident we can be a helpful conduit for your key contributions during what will clearly be a very challenging time.
Necessity is the mother of invention
Even its greatest advocates would not accuse UK policing of being in the vanguard of modernising its ways of working: its embrace of new technology is regularly criticised in responses to our annual Police ICT user surveys, and working practices are very traditional. However, in the weeks ahead, necessity will need to become the mother of invention as it will be impractical and maybe even dangerous to work in the traditional way. Adversity can often drive progress.
The police, famously resourceful and ‘good in a crisis’ will have an opportunity to innovate and improvise in real time – with chatbots, Artificial Intelligence, fresh approaches to social media channels and advanced messaging and collaborative working platforms all offering something new. Thankfully this coincides with many UK forces rolling out some of these tools as the National Enabling Programme brings Microsoft Office 365 to more and more forces. The result will undoubtedly be dramatic improvements in efficiency and some effectiveness gains, too. The challenge will be to embed them in business as usual when things get back to normal.
It’s a scary, challenging, yet fascinating time for policing. The police service has yet to be fully tested by the pandemic, but it undoubtedly will be. Policing Insight will be working to play the most constructive role here as we possibly can. Our contribution will, in part, to be a platform for your ideas, initiatives, successes and insights. Please do use this channel – in everyone’s interests.