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As Infection Rate Soars, Police Pay Heavy Emotional Price

Published on: 6 Jan, 2021
Updated on: 6 Jan, 2021

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

The new and highly contagious coronavirus variant has pushed policing in Surrey to a critical point.

Officers are feeling increased pressure and the chief constable is pleading with people to stay at home, as the infection rate in the county rose by nearly half in just seven days.

County council data shows the number of cases per 100,000 population for the week up to January 1 was 738. The previous week it was 504, a 46% rise.

“Please, please, please, do stay at home,” said CC Gavin Stephens. “Yes, to protect the NHS, but also to protect other public services from this new strain of the virus, so collectively we can all save lives. Sadly we’ve lost so many already.”

The percentage of positive tests indicating how widespread infection is has increased across all of Surrey in the past few days. In Spelthorne, one in four tests is positive, Surrey Police said.

“We used to think one in 10 was a high number,” CC Stephens said. “This is much more serious than the situation we were facing in October and November.

“It feels like it did back in March in terms of the impact on public services, but there’s an additional challenge.”

He said although they are “still able to keep people safe and provide all the policing services’, they were “really stretched” and it was “a real hard graft” to keep on top of the variant.

CC Stephens said measures such as Perspex screens, social distancing and hand hygiene had worked well, but added: “What we are now seeing is the new variant of the virus is so transmissible, even these measures are insufficient to protect the policing workforce.”

More officers are off work, either infected, or self-isolating because a family member is infected, or as a carer. One of the three custody centres had to close for a few days during December due to infection rates.

And their team managing bereavement has had to double in size.

Constantly having to adapt to new regulations is also taking its toll emotionally on officers.

“We’re resilient and we can cope with lots of changes but sometimes there’s just one change too much,” said CC Stephens. “I’ve certainly felt close to tears at times and other colleagues have too.

“I don’t mind saying from a personal perspective, over Christmas and New Year, I was absolutely exhausted. I felt like I’d done two years worth of work in one.”

He said the teamwork and partnership with other public services helped to keep up their motivation. “It’s that sort of mutual care for each other that really gets us through,” he said.

“Officers are used to putting themselves in harm’s way, as a matter of routine. Our colleagues get injuries, cuts and bruises, and they take those things home. But this is different.

“We’re dealing with people up close and personal, in confrontational situations, and that means we’re potentially taking the virus home to our families as well.”

The force’s policy is to engage, explain, encourage, and enforce as a last resort. But CC Stephens said there should be no need for explanation anymore, as the rules now are clear, stay at home.

Surrey Police has issued 572 fixed penalty notices since March 27, mostly for people gathering in excess of permitted numbers.

They include two £10,000 tickets, for a 60-strong house party in Cobham on December 20, and a gathering of more than 30 at a Kingswood address on January 2.

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Responses to As Infection Rate Soars, Police Pay Heavy Emotional Price

  1. Dave Middleton Reply

    January 6, 2021 at 7:39 pm

    But yet the Police are not considered “key” enough to be on the priority list for the vaccine, despite them being very much public-facing.

    You only have to look at the TV reports of police trying to deal with the anti-vax, anti-lockdown protests and all the other protests, to see the danger of infection that they are in. Never mind the “normal” close physical contact with people when making arrests, breaking up fights, administering first-aid to victims of assaults and traffic collisions and so on.

    I’m disgusted that they aren’t high up on the vaccination schedule.

  2. Tracey Jones Reply

    January 7, 2021 at 11:52 am

    The police should be vaccinated before those shielding at home, they have to endure some of the lowest forms of human behaviour, like spitting, and coughing in their faces.

    It’s vile that even the subhuman section of society think that behaviour like that is acceptable or funny.

    Vaccinate our police.

  3. Maurice Bethell Reply

    January 7, 2021 at 8:51 pm

    Surely the job of the police is enforcing the law. Shouldn’t enforcing the law be their first priority? That way there may be fewer people flouting the law.

    The government, public and police forces should remember that the police are not social workers. They are there to enforce the law, no matter how unpalatable they feel this may be.

    If they cannot stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

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