A large part of the job of anyone in a position of responsibility is to manage expectations.
This is especially true when we are in the middle of a crisis, as we are at the moment with the pandemic. Those whose pronouncements are likely to find their way into the media and the public consciousness must be especially careful.
On the whole, the chief scientists and medical officers both nationally and locally have understood this. They have been cautious in what they have said about getting on top of the virus and about creating and rolling out a vaccine. We have made progress but we are not there yet.
Politicians, though, have tended to err in the other direction, greeting every small step in the right direction as if it were the decisive final leap. We can understand why. In part it is about wanting to appear that they have brought us through the crisis well and in part it is about trying to cheer us up and keep us going: the end is in sight. Some politicians, by nature, always want to see the glass half full – which is fine – though by some miracle it always seems to be the top half that is full if not brimming over. Expectations are then not managed but raised unrealistically and we all start to relax our efforts prematurely.
What has concerned me all through the crisis is the way decisions around how restrictions and the easing of restrictions are made have been done with scant reference to the implications for policing. I am not even sure whether conversations between police and health officials at the national level have been as frequent as they should have been. (Presumably they do happen.) So my uneasy suspicion – as I said last week – is that unless expectations around what must happen after Christmas start to be managed now, the police will be called upon to enforce measures that people thought were in the past. After two lock-downs and tough measures in high tiers, followed by a taste of freedom at Christmas, that will not be easy.
Each week I spend some time with senior officers looking through the various incidents to which the police have been called in previous days and the outcomes so far. There are the obvious crimes – car thefts, residential and commercial burglaries, domestic abuse, assaults, homicides, and so on. There are incidents where armed officers have had to be deployed. There are acts of anti-social behaviour, minor and grave. There are missing persons, children and adults. But one area which always leaves me disturbed are the suicides.
I hear about officers having to go to remote places to find a body or gain access to houses where someone has taken their own life. And some of these can be very distressing. The suicide of a teenager. Someone who has been dead for many days. Taking down someone who has tried to hang themselves but not quite succeeded, only for them to die subsequently.
Then families have to be told.
There are aspects to the work of a police officer that are not always appreciated, or perhaps even known, by the public, where we ask a lot of them. And perhaps we forget too easily that officers are not automatons, and their emotions are engaged just as ours would be. But they have to remain professional and learn the hardest thing of all – how to leave this behind when they go home.
This is another reason why the well-being of officers has to remain among the force’s priorities.
A couple of years ago I visited the Police Treatment Centre at Harrogate. It offers support and treatment for officers suffering from physical or psychological problems arising from their work. They can be residential. It is very well-equipped and I had a tour of the hydrotherapy pools, the gyms, treatment rooms and so on. It is, however, a charity and I had given them some funding.
What I found most interesting was an observation by the Chief Executive. He said that there was a definite shift in recent years towards treating those with emotional and psychological issues. Even when officers had come in for help with physical strains and stresses, emotional matters often presented as physical and the charity was investing increasingly in building up its counselling capacity.
These are some of the realities of modern policing and the dominant theme of 2020 – the coronavirus – will not have helped.
I hope you are staying safe and well.