It has been a “long, tough year” already for police officers, the Chairman of Gloucestershire Police Federation has said
Police were unfairly criticised for heavy-handedness at the vigil for Sarah Everard held at Clapham Common, Steve James said. He added: “There was immediate criticism in a number of circles. I find it hard to believe that every police officer who was there policing that vigil on that night was not acutely aware of why they were there and of what had happened and the sensitivity of that. So to suppose that the police deliberately incited violence at that event, the mental gymnastics required to get to such a flawed position just beggars belief.
“There will be officers in the Met who will be working hundreds of hours, thousands of hours between them, to bring whoever is the person responsible for that murder to justice, and to get some kind of closure for Sarah’s family. It’s hard to express just how misguided the condemnation of the police as a whole is, for the potential actions of one person.”
The recent protests in Bristol had also been upsetting, Steve said: “They started peaceful then turned into mindless violence. Twenty-one of our colleagues are injured, officers were dragged into crowds and stamped on. We’ve got an officer with a broken arm, we’ve got another officer with a collapsed lung. It’s hard for officers to get a sense of feeling valued when that is what is happening to your friends and colleagues when they go to work. It’s been a long, tough year.”
This all comes on the back of a year of policing Covid-19 where officers have been in an “invidious position”, having to police the pandemic and keep people away from their friends and families during lockdown, Steve said.
He said: “While that’s a role we’ve had to take on, it’s not one that any officer wanted to, and bearing in mind every officer is in exactly that same position themselves.
“Every officer has not seen Grandad, has not seen cousins and brothers and friends, and has missed birthday parties. Quite frankly we’re as sick of being in lockdown as everybody else. There’s been plenty of coverage around the effect lockdown has had on mental health. Well, imagine the effect that’s had on officers’ mental health, who also are in lockdown and are also having to enforce that lockdown on other people.”
The planned easing of lockdown restrictions would present further challenges for policing, Steve said.
He said: “The weeks following that over the summer are going to be a very, very difficult time to police. For most people there’s a pent-up desire to get out and meet friends and have a good time. But that brings with it a whole host of problems and that’s magnified by the sheer outpouring of peoples’ relief to be out and about and be able to go to a nightclub for the first time in almost 18 months. So we are expecting a long, busy and potentially violent summer.”
On top of that, several significant events are planned, including the G7 Summit in Cornwall in June and the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November, which Steve says will be “significant policing events” and where he expects to see an increase in protest activity.