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Martin Hewitt takes stock of policing during the pandemic

07 Jan 2021

In the Daily Telegraph today, NPCC Chair Martin Hewitt reflects on how we policed the pandemic in 2020 and how we will police the new lockdown. You can read the full copy from this Op-ed here.

National Police Chiefs’ Council Chair, Martin Hewitt

"The Covid-19 pandemic has struck at the heart of our society, affecting us all in one way or another. Many people have sadly experienced loss, illness, worry, stress or loneliness. But we have also seen inspiring examples of charity, support, gratitude and generosity. 

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"Throughout all this, policing has played a valuable role in supporting communities, helping people to understand and comply with the regulations to keep us all safer.

"Officers have been front and centre, out in communities engaging, explaining and encouraging people to do the right thing. This approach, rooted in the tradition of policing by consent, has guided us from the start. I believe it has worked: in our experience the vast majority of people want to follow the rules and no further action is necessary in most interactions we have with the public.

"I’m proud of the way that the policing family - officers, staff, the Special Constabulary and volunteers – has risen to the challenges of this health emergency whilst keeping the regular wheels of policing turning purposefully. They have been extraordinary in facing the challenges of the pandemic. In the early days I’m sure we made mistakes (albeit with good intentions) as we adjusted to the highly unusual situation in which we all found ourselves. We quickly sought to remedy these and have adapted to the unique responsibilities that policing the pandemic has brought - never losing sight that this is a health emergency, not a police one.

I would also pay tribute to the majority of the public who understand what we are trying to achieve and have helped by following the rules and guidance. I hope the way we have used common sense and proportionality, largely taking the public with us in 2020, will feed through to increasing levels of public confidence in what we do and why we do it. 

"Of course, police and their families are not immune to the stresses and strains felt by everyone at this difficult time, and it is a testament to their professionalism and flexibility that the service has been so resilient throughout. I understand the sense of fatigue now felt by many, coming just at that the point that the new variant of the virus needs our renewed and sustained vigilance.

"We have known from the beginning that public compliance would be the key to suppressing infection rates, and we’ve reserved enforcement for the most blatant offenders.

"After ten months of dealing with the situation, and with varying national regulations and measures firmly in place again across the UK, everyone should now understand the rules in their area. We all know for example that large gatherings should not be happening. Forces will continue to bear down on that very small minority who flagrantly and selfishly breach the regulations, such as those that organise unlicensed music events or parties.

This behaviour puts others at significant risk and it’s right that we patrol in potential hotspots and that officers are inquisitive when they see something out of the ordinary. This will offer both reassurance to the public and act as a deterrent to those who think the measures don’t apply to them.

"Though we all feel buoyed by the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination programme, these next months are undoubtedly going to be tough for many. We are in discussions with government about how those on the front line within policing, working to keep the public safe, can also feel reassured that a vaccine is on its way to them as soon as the vulnerable groups have been completed. Nobody is certain how this year will unfold but we will continue to stand with communities and all affected sectors, playing our part in ensuring the public abide by the regulations across the UK, helping drive down rates of infections and keeping us all safer."