University of Portsmouth research finds Hampshire police 'concerned' about role in policing Covid-19 pandemic

POLICE in Hampshire questioned their own role in policing the pandemic, research has found.

Friday, 28th May 2021, 11:19 am

Officers were repeatedly called on to enforce government's lockdown laws - issuing fines to those who flouted them.

But a study of 626 serving officers in Hampshire by the University of Portsmouth has found many were worried about how they were perceived by the public.

It comes after Hampshire Police Federation, which represents the rank-and-file, said its members had to battle to learn ever-changing Covid-19 legislation.

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Police presence in Southsea on March 27, 2020. Picture: Habibur Rahman

The research found they felt to be in a ‘no win’ situation - and social media along with mainstream media ‘distorted the reality of policing lockdowns’ leaving police demoralised.

The wellbeing study found 47 per cent of officers had increased anxiety, with a quarter saying the pandemic had a negative health impact.

They were worried about infecting family members with the virus.

Dr Sarah Charman, from the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, said: ‘Perhaps more than any other profession, the police have had to contend with an unenviable list of thorny Covid-19 related issues.

‘The pandemic has changed both what the police do and how they do it, with potential long-lasting consequences for not only the relationship between the public and the police, but for police officers themselves.’

Force leaders point to its low sickness rate in the pandemic, which has not gone beyond an average of 3.6 per cent of the total workforce. It is among the lowest in Britain.

Assistant chief constable Maggie Blyth said: ‘Policing by consent is vital to us at Hampshire Constabulary, as is the trust and confidence of our diverse communities.

‘The additional powers that policing has been given during the pandemic are temporary in line with The Coronavirus Act 2020 and the Health Protection Regulations 2021 and we have continued to focus on crime and reducing harm across Hampshire at the same time.

‘The events of the last year have been unprecedented, not just for our communities, but also for our workforce. Wellbeing has been an important topic for policing in recent years with Oscar Kilo (National Police Wellbeing Service) launching in 2017.

‘The pandemic has placed significant pressures upon officers and staff, but the results of this research show that Hampshire Constabulary is successfully delivering support to the officers that need it.

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‘We’re proud to have a comprehensive wellbeing scheme for our entire workforce.

‘This comprises wide-ranging actions such as offering flu jabs, fitness challenges, improved physiotherapy and psychological screening, trauma support, information and advice about nutrition, sleep and other health matters.’

Surveys were done last summer with 626 officers, and 39 were interviewed in winter.

About 35 per cent had been threatened, while one in three felt unsafe dealing with the public in lockdown. Nearly 38 per cent disagreed, though.

Around 72.7 per cent said they knew where to get help from.

Geoff Newiss, research associate, said: ‘Our research suggests that steps to improve police wellbeing are going to be much needed, yet ensuring they are effective is likely to be far from straight-forward. Some concerns – such as the additional threats to officers’ safety – might, hopefully, dissipate with the retreat of the virus.

‘Others – such as home working, the heavy toll on frontline officers and public perceptions – will require careful consideration.’

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