The chair of Cambridgeshire Police Federation has praised members as “amazing” as she reflected on the professional and personal challenges of the pandemic a year on from the first lockdown.
Liz Groom says officers have been challenged like never before and criticised the Government for not supporting them by making police a priority for the vaccine.
She said: “Our members have been amazing in my view. Never have we been tested like this. From enforcing new laws, to working with PPE, they’ve just got on with it.
“Sometimes we cannot do right for doing wrong. In the early days they were gifted cakes, chocolates and notes and pictures thanking them.
“As time has gone on we don’t seem to have the public support as we did in the early days. I think it’s just lockdown fatigue now, and when we do have to enforce we’re often criticised for it.
“But this is a health crisis not a policing one and if we don’t enforce the rules who does?”
Liz said it was a “disgrace” that police officers haven’t been prioritised for the vaccine.
“Our members should have been prioritised,” she said,“They have in other countries and yet we’re still waiting and officers feel less valued because of it.
“They enforce the rules and protect the vulnerable. Who do paramedics and the NHS call upon to assist them? It’s the police and yet we’re not afforded the same protection.
“It’s a disgrace and the Government needs to be held to account for this.”
Liz described the response of the Force in the early days of the pandemic, and praised the “Dunkirk spirit” of officers.
“Initially, I did wonder if this would be a very short-term thing,” she said. “How wrong I was.
“As time went on, I was increasingly concerned about the risks posed to colleagues working on the frontline and being exposed to the virus and the lack of understanding from both the Government and the public about how we do our role and cannot always limit contact to mitigate risk.”
Liz added: “Our Force has always kept us involved in every decision that affects our members and from the start of the pandemic we were consulted, although not initially at the Gold Group meeting which after some discussion was changed.
“Our officers were amazing in the early days. Adapting to a new way of working, managing PPE and in pods. There was a real Dunkirk spirit with the Thorpe Wood bar committee really stepping up and even selling toilet rolls.
“Getting people working at home was a bit bumpy at first but it didn’t take long to get people working effectively.
“IT had quite a task of getting everyone set up and they were fantastic at doing this. We’re fairly well equipped and have been a leading force for slates and laptops having them before many other forces, so were fairly well prepared.
“Lots of people working from home and using Skype/Teams was problematic with a few connection issues but now it all works really well.”
Liz said that she was concerned about the mental health impact of the pandemic on officers who haven’t had an outlet for the stress of the job.
“Officers are a social bunch,” she said, “They’ve been restricted from spending time with their families and each other outside of work like everyone else.
“The difference is that this is often a way of de-stressing and getting time away from work and switching off. They simply have not been able to do this.
“The situations they deal with before the pandemic are still there. The calls for service have not significantly reduced and in fact the role has become harder.”
Liz also spoke about the personal impact of the pandemic and the concerns she had for her vulnerable Mum.
“I wasn’t overly concerned for me and my immediate family as we’re generally fit and well,” she said. “But I was more worried about my Mum who had only four months before come out of intensive care after complications after open heart surgery.
“Having COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) too, and also battled bowel cancer eight years ago, she was very vulnerable.
“I knew her being separated from my children would make her very upset as she’d already almost died twice so wanted to cherish every moment with them as she felt she was already on borrowed time.”
Liz said: “I’ve been quite fortunate that my kids are used to years of me working odd and long hours and being a key worker my daughter attended school when my husband worked, which was really helpful.
“It’s been more difficult for my son who, although he’s 18, is autistic and his routine of going to college was disrupted which upsets him and he’s not managed remote learning well.
“The worst thing is being separated from and having to shop for my parents and elderly aunt and ensure they’re OK, but I have a very supportive husband who shares this with me.
“I also love seeing my friends and being unable to meet for coffee in person has been hard, but Zoom calls have been fun in the meantime.
“On a professional note, meetings I think have been better on Teams. It saves significant time in travelling and has made me realise in future this is a far better way of getting things done.
“However, when representing officers it’s better to see them in person and we’ve still been able to achieve this while being safe. I do miss just popping into a station and chatting to officers though, but the Force made it clear that was an unnecessary risk.
“I really look forward to getting back out to see officers again and we plan to do some events locally when we’re allowed.
“I also look forward to being able to announce our initiative of free tickets to local attractions soon, so officers can use these to get out and about and enjoy some quality time in the fresh air with friends and family. It’s never been so well deserved!”