Policing the pandemic

06 May

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John Gorton, head of transport for Kent and Essex Police and chair-elect of the National Association of Police Fleet Managers, reveals some of the challenges facing police services during the pandemic.

"We are required to have contingency plans in place for most foreseeable eventualities and a pandemic is no exception.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought many people’s worlds to a halt, but for one group of workers, it is almost ‘business as usual’: police services continue to provide essential support ensuring the health and safety of the population. And this continuation of working practices is down to a level of planning almost no other sector would consider.

For John Gorton, head of transport for both the Kent and Essex police forces, and chair-elect of the National Association of Police Fleet Managers, a pandemic is no reason not to get the job done: “Every area of policing, including Transport Services, is required to have contingency plans in place for most foreseeable eventualities and a pandemic is no exception. When exceptional circumstances happen, the police service uses a command structure to ensure the situation is co-ordinated effectively across the organisation.

“Effectively a chief officer oversees every aspect of the situation to ensure the operational effectiveness of the force together with the safety and security of officers, staff and the public. Transport Services is an active part of that structure.”

When Covid-19 hit, Gorton put his contingency plans into action – ones which are continually adjusting as the situation evolves. As a result, the forces’ vehicles are still operating in their defined roles and continue to be maintained to the same high standards. Gorton says this action plan has helped maintain the availability rate of vehicles in excess of 95% across both forces.

This is helped by the fact that Kent and Essex police are relatively self-sufficient when it comes to servicing and maintaining vehicles – the forces operate five separate workshops across both counties. Thanks to “excellent” relationships with vehicle manufacturers and suppliers, Gorton says that the forces have sufficient stock for their immediate vehicle needs.

However, this would all be for nothing if there are no technicians to carry out the work. Gorton says that keeping the technicians fit and healthy is a challenge: “They all recognise that they have an essential role to play in maintaining police operational capability for both counties. We have divided our technical resources into isolated teams, practising both social distancing and also distancing between teams to restrict the opportunity of cross-contamination - this appears to have been effective so far.

Keeping vehicles clear of Coronavirus

As well as keeping police vehicles serviced and maintained, another key challenge is ensuring the vehicles remain clean and disease-free. Part of the forces’ contingency plans include making tweaks to existing standard operating procedures for vehicle checks, which includes sanitising vehicles between a change of driver. This involves wiping down all contact areas such as steering wheels, door handles and all controls that may be subject to contamination. Special attention is also paid to ensuring items such as key fobs and logbooks that may be passed between individuals are also included in the sanitisation process.

Further protocols are also in place to deal with vehicles which may have transported members of the public – these can include full deep cleaning of vehicles to help stop the spread of Covid-19.   

Gorton adds: “All stations have been issued with sanitising materials, while vehicle packs have also been issued to ensure officers have access to appropriate materials and protective equipment. There are additional processes in place as vehicles enter/exit the maintenance workshops and additional components have been added to the service regime such as sanitising the air conditioning system.” 

Lessons to learn

And what of when the pandemic is over? What lessons will have been learned? Gorton points to the solid emergency reaction protocols which were already in place before Covid-19 struck – and how quickly all departments within the police forces reacted. While there will be the obvious de-brief to examine the situation and pin-point lessons to be learned, Gorton can already see some changes which might continue over into a more normal way of life.

He adds: “We have quickly learned to operate with the majority of non-technical staff working from home via computer access – whilst not ideal, this has been effective but worthy of greater investment in IT moving forwards. There is also value in investing further in video-conferencing capability between forces nationally, rather than just internally.

“We have also learned just how resilient and capable our staff are when presented with challenging circumstances. There has not been a single individual who has not stepped up and engaged, recognising that they are an integral part of an emergency service and critical to the delivery of frontline policing.”

In addition to managing the complex fleet needs of two police forces, Gorton is also a leading light in the National Association of Police Fleet Managers. The group has been operating an online forum to share best practice and manage communication during the pandemic, while also managing a tender process on behalf of the majority of UK police forces for the procurement of vehicles. The latter has, unsurprisingly, been put on ice, with Gorton adding: “This has been impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak and we are in contact with all suppliers to maintain interim support arrangements until the tender process can be re-started.  We very much value the pragmatic support provided by vehicle manufacturers at this challenging time.”

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