What Christmas looks like for cops on the beat overnight in 2020
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As Christmas looks to be different for us all this year, we have spoken to Chief Inspector John Cole about how the festive period has changed for officers on the front-line in 2020.
John, who is one of five Force Duty Officers at Staffordshire Police, leads a team responsible for 24-hour cover of operational policing across three main hubs at Hanley, Burton and Cannock.
This year has seen a change in the types of incidents being dealt with by officers tasked with keeping us safe over Christmas.
John explains: “Usually, one of the critical nights of the year is the Friday before Christmas, which is normally when everyone is finishing work and that evening becomes one of the busiest periods we have; where we’re dealing with disorder outside pubs and clubs, assaults and drink-related activity.
“But due to covid-19’s impact on the night-time economy, we weren't dealing with that this year on Friday 18 December.
“We also usually have more people drink-driving during the festive season when they tend to drink more at their business lunches and Christmas work meals, but again, this has reduced as predominantly people are drinking in their homes.
“Conversely, we have seen more instances of domestic abuse and calls out to help those who are vulnerable, which for me is a key part of policing.
“Every day we help find high-risk missing people, whether that means assisting someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis to helping an older person who through no fault of their own has become lost and disorientated.
“I know that there are so many people out there who are safe and with their loved ones this Christmas because of the work we do to help bring them home.”
The pandemic has led to a change in the types of offences being dealt with by officers.
“Thieves are more opportunistic than ever,” John explains.
“Knowing that people are ordering presents online which are being delivered on doorsteps, means thieves are scouring homes for the chance to make-off with high-value goods.
“Car thefts and burglaries are also being reported, which makes it more important than ever to make sure your property is secured – think about where you’re putting valuable items, ideally not under the Christmas tree, leave your household lights on, make noise and make it look like someone in the house at all times.”
Police are also no longer attending sporting events in the same way, due to the tiering system in place across Staffordshire during the pandemic.
“We’re not having to police football matches in the same way – so the level of resources the public would normally see has been redeployed to support other policing priorities,” John said.
“Usually we have about four or five police support units attending games, but now, due to lack of spectators, we deploy a number of spotters instead.”
During Christmas, officers are also called to deal with wildlife and poaching-related incidents.
“We are usually quite busy dealing with plans for hunting and anti-hunt protests this time of the year,” John said.
“But again, the pandemic has had an impact on that, though it continues to be important that we balance our policing style at these events – allowing lawful activity and for those protesting to express their points of view in a safe and lawful way.”
Covid-19 has also affected officers themselves.
John said: “It’s challenging because sometimes the public don’t view us officers as being vulnerable to covid ourselves.
“When an individual calls the police, in their minds there is no question as to whether we will be there.
“But, like everyone, we’ve been affected by lots of people having the illness and having contact with covid.
“Although we of course do extensive risks assessments, we are often exposed to many households within our policing areas and so frequently put ourselves and our families at risk of contracting the disease, in order to help and support the public.
“This has been a real pressure and continues to be so on a daily basis.
“But it is crucial that what we deliver is unchanged – whether covid is here or not, the service we provide to the public is no different.”
Though John admits officers have, like everyone, struggled to deal with challenges relating to their down time, with gyms closed, sporting activities limited and pubs shut down.
“Despite these challenges,” John said, “I’m very proud of the commitment shown by all our staff throughout the pandemic.
“I think people have been very selfless and there has been a lot of goodwill from the public as well as the police officers themselves who have been doing their upmost every day to protect and serve.
“We are here to save lives and protect people and that has been the priority, no matter what.”