The police have been praised for their ‘dedication and commitment’ to keep people safe and prevent crime during the pandemic in a report published today by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS).
Although they acknowledged there were some inconsistencies, inspectors said that in general Forces ‘took immediate and decisive action to respond to the extreme circumstances’ during the Covid-19 crisis.
The report, which follows an inspection of policing between March and November last year, recognised the fact that the fast-paced announcement and introduction of new legislation affected some forces’ ability to produce timely and clear guidance for officers and staff.
Inspectors reported that this led to confusion over the difference between legislation and Government guidance, stressing that the police can only enforce legislation.
Commenting on the report, secretary of Dyfed Powys Police Federation Roger Webb said: “During the pandemic, officers across the Force have been putting their own health, as well as that of their loved ones, at risk to serve and protect the public.
“The past 12 months have undeniably been challenging. Alongside the pressures of working during the pandemic, officers have found themselves constantly criticised in the media, whether that’s for being too harsh or too lenient.
“The Federation has fought hard throughout the pandemic to support officers and to highlight the challenges officers have faced over the past year.
“So, I’m pleased the report recognised regular changes in legislation often made the job of our officers more difficult, while praising their actions during such an unpredictable time.”
HMICFRS said demand on policing changed during the first lockdown. There were fewer reports of some crimes, such as theft and robbery, and an increased need to support the work of other frontline services as well as enforcing lockdown restrictions. This change meant forces used their resources differently. For example, some forces were able to clear backlogs of outstanding arrest warrants.
The inspectorate acknowledged the criticism some forces faced for their interpretation of lockdown restrictions, including undertaking road checks to identify unnecessary journeys, drone surveillance, and police action in relation to non-essential shopping and what was thought to be excessive exercise.
While these actions were viewed by some as heavy-handed or inconsistent, inspectors were assured that police forces had learnt from these instances and in general did well to maintain public trust.
Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Matt Parr said: “In these unprecedented times, the public looked to the police to continue to keep them safe and to keep order. While daily life substantially changed for the majority of us, the police were expected to continue to carry out their duties.
“Overall, the police rose to the challenge with dedication and commitment by taking immediate and decisive action to keep people safe and prevent crime, while also learning lessons from the rare occasions that they got it wrong.
“We know that police officers are on the frontline of Covid-19, with some tragically losing their lives to the virus. I offer our condolences to all those who have lost relatives, friends or colleagues.
“We have made recommendations to help the police improve their response to the pandemic, and to prevent existing issues in policing being made worse. The police, the criminal justice system and Government need to work together to solve these problems.”
The inspection found that police forces introduced new ways of working during the pandemic that could provide future benefits to policing, such as incorporating video conferencing technology in order to continue working with local safeguarding services.
However, some of the new ways of working adopted by police forces during the pandemic may not be right for the long-term. For example, to reduce infection risks some forces initially screened out more crimes that were unlikely to be solved, dealt with more victims indirectly, or reduced their in-person visits to offenders.
HMICFRS said that while these changes were sensible at the beginning of the pandemic, forces should consider the effect they could have on the public.
It made several recommendations to police forces, including:
HMICFRS has also today published a separate report about how police custody services in England and Wales operated during the pandemic.
The inspection found that police forces need to collect comprehensive and accurate information to assess the ongoing impact that Covid-19 and changes to working arrangements are having on custody services.