It comes as readers of The News backed Hampshire police’s service in the pandemic, ranking the quality of their work higher than that of hospitals.
Around 60 per cent of the 1,000 people who took our Big Conversation survey said police including emergency services had done a good or very good job between lockdown starting and September.
In an exclusive interview, Hampshire Constabulary deputy chief constable Sara Glen praised her force’s work since March but warned of a ‘challenging winter’ after a tough summer.
On the survey Ms Glen said she was ‘really pleased that’s come forward’ as the ‘pats on the back’ make her force know ‘the public do appreciate them’.
‘Fatigue hitting officers’
At the same time, Hampshire Police Federation chair Zoe Wakefield has warned of workforce ‘fatigue’ with new coronavirus legislation, deployments to big Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter protests outside of Hampshire, and childcare pressures.
Sgt Wakefield said it was ‘great to hear’ the results of this newspaper’s survey and her colleagues are ‘dedicated professional officers who want to do their best for the public, even at the most challenging times’.
Speaking to The News, Ms Glen said: ‘It has been super tough but our (officers and staff) are very, very up for the challenge.’
She added: ‘It’s a real challenge and I don’t sit here feeling particularly comfortable for the challenge we’ve got in the winter.’
Police are expecting to dish out more Covid fines as infections rise, are preparing for any traffic chaos linked to Portsmouth port in a no-deal Brexit, and balancing both of these with usual policing - and training a cadre of new officers.
More pressure would be put on if further restrictions applied to Hampshire.
Ms Glen said: ‘We’ve had some really busy summer demands. We’ve had Covid, we’re all looking at how we’re going to deliver around some of the concerns around the EU negotiations.
‘It’s kind of accumulated and the fatigue in officers, who have been working under stretch for a long time, I think it’s a cumulative thing - and that’s apparent in Covid.’
Quicker testing essential to holding thin blue line
On top of this, Ms Glen said it was vital officers get ‘quick access to testing’ to clear them from self-isolation and get back onto the streets.
Without this it would ‘see us having a challenge in the winter,’ she added.
‘If we can’t get our officers tested quickly they can’t get out,’ she said, revealing her view of access to testing was that some were speedy, and some not.
‘We need every single one of them out there serving the public,’ she said.
Amid all the pressures on police, Ms Glen revealed:
:: Just three per cent of the workforce are off sick, placing the force among the five in the country with the lowest rate.
:: More than 100 officers were deployed on Mutual Aid assignments, including 25 at Black Lives Matters protests and 57 in Kent for the migrant crisis.
:: Staff and officers can access occupational health within five days - as opposed to five months in some forces.
:: Front-line officers have not accrued large numbers of rest days owing, with the average between PCs and DCs just over three days, and leadership have seven on average.
‘Can't underestimate impact of Covid’
Federation chair Sgt Wakefield said: ‘I don’t think we can underestimate the impact that Covid has had on our frontline officers.
‘There was a short period where demand was low and maybe officers weren’t being deployed to as many jobs as normal, but that wasn’t for very long.’
Taking away local officers to deployments further afield meant ‘officers left in force have to fill the gaps’.
She said: ‘When you look at the cuts to policing and the reduction in the number of officers over the past 10 years, there’s fewer officers doing more work.
‘So officers are working harder and they’re staying on later because there’s fewer of them to get the work done.
‘Then add Covid to the mix and then all the new legislation.
She added: ‘That all adds to the pressure that the officers are under, which adds to fatigue.’
But investment in wellbeing over a period of four years has left the force in a good position, Ms Glen said.
This is despite 235 officers off in 2019/20 due to stress, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder -up from 225 the previous year.
Crime commissioner Michael Lane spent £760,000 last year on ensuring officers can be psychologically screened to pick up and prevent mental health illness sooner.
Asked if the demands coming in winter will mean policing is unsustainable, Ms Glen said: ‘Policing will deliver, we always have done - we always will do. Does it mean there are consequences to things we can’t respond to? Yes it does.’
About 58 per cent of respondents to the Big Conversation said emergency services should be funded better, with 64 per cent of people saying this for hospitals, and 53 per cent for social care.
Refuse collectors were rated the most highly for their service.
Officers are not ‘cannon fodder’
Frontline officers risking their own lives and their families’ health by tackling crime under the threat of Covid-19 are not ‘cannon fodder’.
Deputy chief constable Sara Glen made the strident remarks before condemning people who hold house parties and large events where the virus can spread rapidly.
Officers were spat at in lockdown 115 times in lockdown, figures show.
‘Our officers and staff are not cannon fodder, they go into an environment knowing that they could contract the virus,’ she said - adding they have PPE and precautions.
Asked about house parties, she said: ‘I think it’s really foolish of people to be having large-scale house parties - they run the risk of infecting themselves and others, and emergency services responding.’
Ms Glen said she ‘can’t fathom how people’ consider taking the risk of infecting people with health conditions, ‘parents and grandparents - it’s horrific’.
She said: ‘There will be a time for celebration - it’s not now.’
And in a warning to others, she said: ‘Where we need to enforce, we will. Where the infection rate starts to rise so will our enforcement.’