15 December 2020
The national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) has told the House of Lords that police officers being labelled the villains during the pandemic was unfair and an insult.
John Apter told the House of Lords Constitution Committee: “This has been the most unprecedented time for policing and it is important we recognise that. My colleagues have absolutely stepped up to the plate during this crisis and I couldn’t be prouder of them as they are faced with rapid changes in legislation and unfair criticism in the national media.”
John, who attended the inquiry into the constitutional implications of the Covid-19 crisis with the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners’ (APCC) chair Paddy Tipping, highlighted the challenges of rapid changes in legislation as well as media criticism of policing.
He also explained how the PFEW had raised concerns during discussions with the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), the Home Office and the wider Government throughout the crisis. The Lords were told while the concerns were listened to, some messages failed to filter through to the Prime Minister.
John also said that ahead of ‘Super Saturday’ on 4 July, the Police Federation warned the Government against relaxing restrictions over a weekend: “I completely understand the economic pressures but this decision (to open pubs on a Saturday after months of lockdown) put an intolerable amount of pressure on my colleagues. All we wanted from the Government was an understanding that when these announcements are made there are consequences for policing.”
In addition, the national chair shone a spotlight on members who are under an immense amount of pressure as they deal with crime levels similar to those seen before the pandemic, referring to a 21 per cent increase in recorded assaults on police officers during the first period of lockdown, compared to the same time the previous year.
When asked how police officers on the frontline were advised of changes to coronavirus restrictions and whether they had been clear, he said there were often delays because of the speed of new legislation and the main information was shared via PowerPoint presentations. He said officers preferred to be told face to face on shift briefings and stressed the need for simpler guidance.
“We have over-complicated the guidance. I acknowledge lessons have been learnt and I appreciate this is an unprecedented time but simplicity is key. I accept the tiering system has made it more complex but it doesn’t help colleagues out on the frontline,” John said, adding “But this was a good opportunity to highlight the realities of policing during the pandemic and the pressure my colleagues have been, and remain, under.
“They have been labelled the villains of this pandemic by some media and this is an insult to those officers who have done their absolute best in these very difficult times.”