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After the lockdown: Specials, mental health and the big picture

When the lockdown is lifted important changes to policing will have to be made, according to Police Federation Chairman John Apter. In the second part of our interview he singles out Specials and looks to the future.

As frontline officers and staff began to self-isolate because of the COVID-19 virus, concerns were raised about how the police would enforce the lockdown.

Media claims began to circulate that the Army would be brought in and only major crimes would be investigated. Those fears have not materialised: sickness levels have not gone above 10% and reassigning roles has relieved pressure. But also critical to the response have been the thousands of Special Constables who have taken on major roles with many adding hours because they have been furloughed.

Chairman of the Police Federation, John Apter, tells Police Oracle that it’s time this group was given formal recognition to end the perception that they are hobbyists.

He says: “They’ve been absolutely brilliant, they’ve really stepped up. I’ve always been a massive supporter of the Special Constabulary and what this crisis has shown is that they are an integral and essential part of policing. The commitment they’ve shown alongside colleagues and the hours they’ve put in has been amazing. To call them volunteers is an insult. I think they’ve demonstrated they are a force to be reckoned with: Special by name, Special by nature.”

But their status is limited by statute and he says it’s time that changed: “Specials can’t be members of the Federation; I’ve always felt that was wrong. They should – if they want to – be members so we can give them some support. I was a Special but their work is very different now; they are in specialist teams, they’re driving response vehicles and more. They’re doing the same job.”

He added: “This government has given the commitment that the legislation will change. I’m a big believer in the police family and I believe with passion that it’s something that needs to change. Hopefully, the legislation will change soon – they deserve it.”

Once the crisis is over, officers will need to recover as the round the clock working had come at a time when many would have taken leave carried over from last year because of Brexit and the Extinction rebellion – as well as long-term shortages in officer numbers.

National Police Chiefs’ Council leader Martin Hewitt told Police Oracle is his last briefing it was an issue for forces to resolve.

But Mr Apter said it would have to be settled and, given the numbers involved, the solution will need careful consideration.

He tells Police Oracle: “When it comes to leave and rest days, it’s not asking a favour from the boss. It’s making sure those that stepped up in the crisis are given the absolute best support until we get back to whatever normal is. Some will have partners who have lost their jobs. There will be financial hardship for some. There will be families that have lost loved ones. It’s important that we are there for each other.”

The crisis has also highlighted how vulnerable many people in communities now are due to temporary contracts and other workplace issues that mean they are just a single pay cheque away from crisis. During the crisis a number of big-name high street retailers have folded and economists are warning the long-term effects from COVID-19 could take years to resolve.

Mr Apter says they are right to be concerned and this could lead to an increase in crime.

He says: “There was always going to be an economic fallout. There will be businesses that will fall by the wayside and many people will lose their jobs. As a society, we have to be prepared for that as part of the fallout from COVID-19 after the lockdown.”

He adds that the impact on the mental health of not only vulnerable people but those who have lost loved ones or had the virus will also have to be part of the post-lockdown plans.

He tells Police Oracle: “That’s going to be significant. There’s the mental and emotional effects; it’s going to take some time. It’s important that the government are alive to that. Policing will have to play its part was well in that.”

Mr Apter also warned that the Third Sector organisations that have helped keep communities going during the crisis will need additional help because their fundraising activities have been decimated.

He says: “The charities that have made such a huge effort are going to help. They are going to need us more than ever. I think we are in for a bumpy ride.”

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