Home Office preparedness for Covid-19 (Coronavirus): Policing Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

About this report

1.The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented situation that poses an urgent threat to public health and safety, and has put the police in the position of dealing with challenges they have never faced before, which they are having to navigate with sensitivity and diligence. We thank the police for the vital work they are doing to counter the spread of the pandemic while continuing to protect our communities from crime and safeguard the most vulnerable in society. They will continue to have our strong support in their work to protect the NHS and save lives. (Paragraph 3)

Enforcement of the new Coronavirus restrictions

2.The vast majority of the public are following Government advice and complying with the new Regulations, and the police are adapting quickly and effectively to challenges in upholding the new law. Adherence to the regulations is principally the responsibility of the public across the country, and we agree that police measures to restrict movement and gatherings will only succeed if the principle of policing by consent is upheld. We welcome the strategy to engage, explain and encourage before considering enforcement, and the determination on the part of the police to uphold the tradition of policing by consent. (Paragraph 19)

3.Given the pace at which the new regulations had to be implemented, it is not surprising that there have been some early problems and errors and we welcome the additional guidance that the police have published because it is important that these do not endure. (Paragraph 20)

4.We welcome the swift clarifications and apologies from forces on social media about cases where the police have got things wrong. Forces need to ensure that there are proper checks in place to ensure errors that are not captured on social media are also corrected. The early evidence and figures shared with us from some forces suggest that the overall police response has been proportionate. Some of the challenges for the police have arisen due to the divergence between the regulations and the different statements from Government. The Department for Health and Social Care and the Home Office need to ensure that where there is divergence between regulations and messages coming from central Government (for example over shopping for non-essential goods) they continue to provide swift clarity for the public as well as the police; otherwise the police will be left in a difficult position. (Paragraph 21)

5.It is vital that all forces and all officers understand the distinction between Government advice and legal requirement, and that the tone and tactics they use are appropriate to each. Failing to do so depletes public trust. We will continue to monitor the actions of forces to ensure that a bond of trust is maintained between the police and the public. (Paragraph 22)

6.We recommend that the NPCC and the College of Policing collate and publish figures for use of new enforcement measures by all UK forces on a weekly basis and monitor where there is significant divergence between forces in the use of enforcement measures. The NPCC and the College of Policing should review their guidance at least monthly, and inform the Committee in writing of any changes they plan to make. (Paragraph 23)

7.Parks and green spaces provide benefits to the health and wellbeing of all members of the public and especially those who do not have access to outdoor space where they live. For families with children and many others, being prevented from using local parks can make it much harder to cope with lockdown. Where people are deliberately flouting the social distancing regulations when using parks, they are making it much harder for others who are adhering to the rules. In those circumstances, intervention by the police is very important. In some cases, local authorities and the police had taken the decision to close parks without having first tried enforcement measures or alternative access arrangements. Especially in urban areas where there are few alternative green spaces, we urge police forces and local authorities to work in partnership, and first consider whether proper enforcement action against those who are breaching the rules would allow parks and green spaces to be kept open for everyone else instead. (Paragraph 24)

The nature of crime and police demand during lockdown

8.Scrutinising how police and Government safeguard against any increased domestic abuse risk is a priority for the Committee. It is worrying that charities and police forces are reporting an increase in calls as victims face periods of confinement with their abusers. We have therefore issued a further call for evidence on these concerns, with a view to producing a further short, specific report. We encourage anybody with concerns about the wellbeing of themselves or others to contact the services listed in that call for evidence. Individuals at risk of immediate violence or abuse should always call 999 and take steps to protect themselves or their families from violence, including if necessary leaving the home and seeking refuge and support. (Paragraph 28)

9.We encourage the public to remain vigilant, and to stop and think twice before giving any money or personal details away over the phone or in person. (Paragraph 31)

10.Previous Home Affairs Committee reports have set out strong concerns about the weaknesses and inadequacies of Action Fraud and policing arrangements to tackle online crime and fraud. Rising online fraud as a result of COVID-19 is likely to expose those weaknesses further. We urge the Home Office, National Crime Agency and NPCC to set out what action they are taking to address COVID-19 related online fraud in the short term. We believe it is imperative that the Home Office takes seriously the Committee’s previous recommendations and overhauls and modernises action against online fraud as we emerge from this crisis. (Paragraph 32)

11.We welcome the commitment from forces to support mental health. It is important that police officers get the support they need both to respond to mental health cases and look after their own mental health during this crisis. Police forces must have the resources to be able adequately to support officers who have had to deal with traumatic incidents, including the aftermath of suicide, and attending deaths suspected as resulting from COVID-19. (Paragraph 34)

12.The Committee believes that, in times of national emergency only, chief constables should not have to rely on the goodwill of employers alone to make increased use of their trained special constables, should they need to do so. The Committee therefore recommends that the Home Office immediately addresses the discrepancy in Schedule 7 of the Coronavirus Act 2020, which does not list special constables amongst the types of volunteers employers are compelled to release on full paid leave should they be needed to report for duty by their chief constable. (Paragraph 35)

13.Effective law enforcement is a multipartite process. The courts have a crucial role to play in ensuring that crimes committed during the pandemic are dealt with in an appropriate time frame and a professional manner. It is therefore concerning that workers supporting the criminal justice system have not been afforded key worker status. We recommend that Government review which workers in the criminal justice system have not been afforded key worker status, and consider extending the status to them. They should write to us to inform us of the outcome, and explain the rationale for any decision not to extend the status to workers in the system. (Paragraph 37)

Provision of COVID-19 tests to police officers

14.We support the Government’s decision to prioritise NHS and social care staff for COVID-19 antigen testing. Once testing capacity has been suitably scaled up, however, police officers must be an early priority. This will increase the availability of officers, and therefore the amount of support they are able to provide to the public. The Home Office should write to us to clarify the plans and timetable for the testing regime to be put in place for police officers. The letter should tell us: when tests will start becoming available to officers; whether the Government’s 100,000 target by the end of April includes any tests for police officers; how it will ensure that police are being given accurate information about tests; and if certain police roles or forces will be prioritised for testing, and the reasons why. The Home Office should also explain if police forces will be required to purchase their own tests or if tests will be provided to them from central government once they become available. (Paragraph 39)

Personal Protective Equipment

15.Officers must be given certainty that the guidance issued to them about the appropriate use of PPE is clear, consistent and comprehensive. Clarity and consistency are harder to achieve when authorities issue multiple versions of guidance in a short space of time, and when organisations then issue their own. These actions could increase the possibility that officers are following incorrect guidance. The NPCC must immediately work with Public Health England, the Health and Safety Executive and any other appropriate bodies including the Police Federation to address any confusion resulting from inconsistencies in guidance issued to officers. Thereafter, they should provide a copy of the guidance to us, indicating any changes that were required. In addition, the NPCC should write to us explaining why the advice was issued three times in five days. The Home Office should also explain to the Committee in writing: what conversations have taken place between the department and the NPCC in relation to PPE advice; what role it has played in ensuring that the advice is accurate; how it will assure the Committee that any confusion will be resolved as a matter of urgency; and its plans to ensure that supply of PPE will meet the required levels. (Paragraph 46)

16.Individuals who use COVID-19 to threaten police officers—including through coughing or spitting at officers—must be prosecuted swiftly for the crime. Spit guards are an important tool with which to protect officers and must be made readily available to forces where chief constables require them. We ask all forces to write to us explaining their policy for providing spit guards to frontline officers during the COVID-19 outbreak. All use of spit guards must of course be in line with existing safeguards and guidance. (Paragraph 47)

17.Providing appropriate PPE to all officers who need it is of paramount importance to ensure an effective policing response to COVID-19 that does not put officers at risk. While we are pleased that the forces who spoke to us have enough PPE for now, we are concerned about gaps and inconsistencies in supplies. The Home Office and NPCC need to ensure there is a secure and robust supply chain for PPE—including building in extra supplies both locally and nationally to ensure forces can cope with surges in demand, and working with the NHS, social care and other sectors to ensure those sectors’ supplies aren’t put at risk. We welcome the action of those businesses which are reported to have shared spare PPE resource with their local forces, and would encourage others to follow this example as part of the national effort. We recommend that, following clarification to NPCC guidance on when PPE should be used, the National Police Coordination Centre send us their prediction of PPE demand among forces over the next month and then beyond, and current anticipated supply to meet that demand. (Paragraph 48)

Published: 17 April 2020