Since February 2020, Assistant Chief Constable Dave Miller has been leading Operation Apollo, Surrey Police and Sussex Police’s Covid-19 response. He is also Chair of the Sussex Resilience Forum; a multi-agency partnership including local authorities, emergency services, the NHS, volunteers and other key agencies which prepares, responds to and recovers from emergencies and major incidents. In this open letter, he shares his Covid experience and reflects on the past 12 months.
Thinking back to this time last year, I remember using the word ‘coronavirus’ as something quite removed from my daily life. A talking point. A virus, rapidly spreading in the Far East, though not yet impacting us here in the UK. As the police, we planned for its probable arrival. Developing a strategy around a possible worst case scenario as we would for any major incident and indeed, along with other public sector agencies, we had plans in place for pandemic flu. But this turned out to be quite different.
We could never have imagined what we are faced by now – our country, gripped by a disease which is not only controlling lives, it’s taking them too. All of us have been seriously affected by Covid – whether that’s contracting the disease, lockdown, being furloughed, or losing someone.
I write to you now as someone who tested positive six weeks ago, along with my immediate family. Today, I still suffer from this invisible enemy – the coughing fits and fatigue for example. I have a brother who is working exhaustingly to keep a care team running in Brighton; watching him struggle as they attempt to provide 24/7 care to people who desperately need it. As a school governor and father, I too am experiencing the challenges parents are facing as yet again they are asked to balance work and childcare at short notice. Like many of us, I have friends in the NHS and hear how very difficult it has been and continues to be for them, their patients and families.
None of us are immune. None of us. And seems to be a complete lottery as to how we’ll be affected. We can all contract it and pass it on, some of us without even knowing we are doing it.
Through my role leading the Resilience Forum, I see my colleagues in the public sector doing all that they can to fulfil the commitment they made when choosing a public service career. NHS staff working night and day to save lives. Teachers rapidly adapting their techniques to continue supporting our next generation and the social workers, preventing harm as a result of complex living environments. It’s a true multi-agency partnership – police officers working on logistics, fire officers helping to manage vaccinations, people working through the night to ensure those who require PPE receive it.
Twelve months ago, while I knew this was coming, I was concerned, not fearful. Now I am. I am worried for the people who are vulnerable; for the elderly. I fear for our children and the lack of socialisation they are experiencing. I worry for the long-term impact of Covid on myself and my family. But most of all, I worry about the people who are not adhering to the guidelines – the ones not concerned by police enforcement or social responsibility. The ones where even the pain and suffering that this horrible virus is inflicting on humanity isn’t enough to prevent them from taking responsibility and keeping each other safe.
Fortunately, as we heard from the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, and Martin Hewitt, Chair of the National Police Chiefs Council, this week; the vast majority of people are law abiding and as a Chief Police Officer, I thank you for this. In Surrey and Sussex, the vast majority of people listen, accept the advice and take personal responsibility to play their part when it is needed most.
Yet sadly there is still a minority who think the law, and the guidance, does not apply to them. We are in a third national lockdown. Our excess death rate has risen to its highest level since World War Two. And the infection rate continues to climb exponentially.
It is therefore not ok to be reckless or irresponsible because we are tired, frustrated, bored. I know it’s difficult, but it’s just not acceptable to bend the rules, even slightly. I say that as a neighbour, member of the public, father, friend and also as a senior police leader.
Which is why, as the police service, we will continue to support our healthcare colleagues by doing all that we can to keep people safe and prevent deaths. We will continue to adopt an approach which centres on engagement, explaining and encouragement, imploring people to make good choices.
For those who blatantly disregard the rules, we will ensure they are dealt with when justified, necessary and proportionate because they are putting others at risk. People are dying and that’s not acceptable. Please respect that our police officers and staff have a job to do, both in day-to-day policing and in supporting the Covid effort. Expect they may interact with you, ask you questions, encourage you to consider your actions. They are there putting themselves, and therefore their families at risk, daily doing a very challenging job at the best of times – catching criminals, keeping people safe, answering emergency calls, responding to incidents, investigating crime and the many other things the police service needs to do to deliver the best service we can. I’m immensely proud of them, but it’s far from easy even for our committed people.
As police officers we swear to protect life first and foremost. Which is why when every unnecessary contact is a possible infection, another hospital bed and potentially another life lost, we will do all that we can to play our part in stopping this virus.
We ask that you do the same – stay home, save lives, protect our NHS.