Policing with the Military in a Covid Crisis

I watched & listened to the Prime Ministers address to the nation and heard the reference about the Military being used to `support` the Police in enforcing the Covid regulations. He clearly mentioned `backfilling` and putting more police on the streets which for me are two separate aspects in any increase in enforcing the regulations.

Backfilling –

I have listened to several radio phone ins and read several views online about how the refence to the military may mean troops on the streets in a policing role. That is categorically not what was meant or what policing would ask for or request based on my knowledge and experience. I worked for many years in the Public Order Branch of the Metropolitan Police and sat through many strategic planning meetings and emergency planning meetings with senior officers. Police chiefs across the UK know and fully understand their role in society and that they police by public consent, they are not a military force but maintain strong partnerships with our military forces. Policing and the military can and will work together if need be, but not as joint patrols on the streets or in using the military for dealing with demonstrations or protests.

The reference to `backfilling` is to a contingency and option that is already in place, that if Policing requires the release of additional officers from certain specialised roles then the military may be used. That means that police officers used to protect and secure Crown properties, government buildings and Defence establishments could be replaced by military personnel. Those officers would then be available for Covid enforcement roles or other recognised policing roles, whilst the military perform their security functions. I have never seen any plans or been present in any planning meeting, where the option of using troops on the street for policing roles was a viable option or proposal.

Additional Officers –

This is where it becomes interesting and, in some ways, aspirational and arguably unachievable. As many in policing, and those of us who previously worked in policing, will tell anyone who still wants to listen, that there are NO additional or extra officers available in those commonly understood terms. Policing has little or no resilience in officers available to be re deployed to another role or bolster a specific function such as any increase in enforcing Covid regulations. Since the `lockdown` was eased some months ago we have witnessed a return to violent crime levels and serious crime incidents on a similar regularity as they were before March. In some areas of crime, they are increasing, as criminal groups look to retain & regain their area of criminality and prevent other groups from taking over. Drink related offences have also increased once the pubs opened again, which may explain the new move to close pubs and bars at 10pm to alleviate the burden on policing and health care services. There was already an increase in mental health related calls to police, coupled with a significant rise in domestic abuse related cases.

Policing is and was already stretched to the limits, however during the lockdown they were able to return to some more pro active work as calls reduced in many other areas such as violent incidents or public disorder as people stayed home. That situation changed when the lockdown was eased, and people were urged to eat out and return to work and pubs and public areas re opened. The cuts to budgets and resources in policing has been well documented but that is a primary cause for policing now lacking the numbers to react to these challenging times.

There are no additional officers ready to be deployed – they will be taken from existing areas of policing and local response teams which places extra strain on officers left to deal with those areas. It also means cancelling much needed rest days and increasing hours at work for officers, so 8/10-hour days become 14- or 16-hour days or more on occasions. This is not a healthy place for our Police service and the public can play their part by following guidelines or legislation as it frequently changes.

As in previous times, the military will step in and assist the Police service but in a supportive role by taking over some of the non-operational or non-contact roles. It is irresponsible to suggest military forces will patrol the streets of the UK carrying out Policing roles and enforcing the laws of the land. That has always been the role of the Police and is done with the consent of the public and for the protection of the public, even when some sections of the public may not believe or accept it is for their own protection. 

Every person has a part to play irrespective of personal views on the benefits of restrictions or lockdown measures. At times, policing can be quite a blunt implement to achieve compliance with legislation with officers only having the option to report or arrest any offenders. The policy for policing throughout the Covid crisis has been based on the Four `E`s – Engage, Explain, Encourage and if they fail to achieve compliance then Enforce as the last option. The vast majority of officers have used discretion in their dealings with anyone breaking the regulations – they have not made these laws but are expected to ensure they are followed. That is predominantly achieved by the first three `E`s – engaging and explaining why they need to be followed or finally encouraging the public to comply. Enforcement has always been the last option if for any reason the individual will not or cannot comply with the law.   

As with most offences –

The way to avoid being fined or arrested is to abide by the laws of the land –

The way to challenge is through our democratically representatives and in Parliament –

That way you are supporting Policing and protecting yourself, your family and society.    

Stay well.