2020: a year like no other, especially for our emergency services

It is not a cliché to say that this has truly been a year like no other. 

2020 started with high hopes for the public safety sector, with the promise of new budgets and many more police officers. Who could have predicted then the impact that COVID-19 was to bring?

To recognise the trials, tribulations, challenges, and even some of the opportunities and successes we’ve seen our peers across the emergency sector deliver throughout 2020, we’ve caught up with our Executive Safety Director, Ian Blackhurst to hear his perspective.

Where it all began…

As we entered March, the UK – and much of the world – went into lockdown, forcing almost every industry and its businesses to close their doors. But for our emergency and critical services, this was not an option. “Key Worker” status was activated.  

Teams across the four emergency services, justice and healthcare providers, and many more, were thrown into an entirely new way of supporting the people in their care, and they never failed in putting others first. They risked their own lives through exposure to the virus, in addition to the day-to-day risks they already face.

What were some of the biggest challenges facing policing and law enforcement?

With the imposition of lockdowns and the restrictions they brought – and continue to present, our police forces were required to find ways to manage their enforcement. Officers are going above and beyond their calls of duty, making decisions and adjusting to new powers in a matter of days. 

Further, with changing criminal patterns, and albeit decreases in some areas, heightened responses to domestic violence and online theft created new challenges. A recent report by PWC assessed this situation, finding that with less social interaction outside the closest family, these kinds of crime become more difficult to identify and intervene in. In the UK, the Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline recorded a 25% rise in calls in less than three weeks after the introduction of lockdown measures. 

According to the report, this challenge was common across policing and law enforcement globally. In France, calls to the child abuse hotline — Allo Enfance en Danger — saw a 20% increase in the three weeks after March 17. And in early April, the French police reported a nationwide spike of about 30% in domestic violence. In Canada, Federal consultations show a 20 to 30% increase in rates of gender-based violence and domestic violence in some regions of the country.

Moreover for officers and first responders, the mental impact of responding to more deaths is on the minds of senior leaders as we protect the wellbeing of our teams now and long into the future. And so too is the need for access to PPE for our officers, as the world faced global shortages of gloves, gel and face masks. 

Meanwhile in the courts, a huge reduction in disposals caused a large backlog in outstanding cases. Change was needed, and with a swift move to getting the courts to work remotely, they were able to recover from the lows in April where weekly disposal were at 3,583, to now, where the latest reports has disposals back up to 25,261

In prisons, a system of ‘compartmentalisation’ was implemented to contain the virus – focused on reducing movements and the release of low-risk offenders to minimise prison populations. Striking that critical balance between limiting the spread of COVID-19 and protecting the public presented yet further challenges. 

What’s our perspective?

Public and private sector organisations and their people have come together in the spirit of collaboration, demonstrating forward thinking more than ever before. We’ve found new ways to adapt and are proud to support the sector in adopting the right digital technology that helps protect society. 

For instance, through partnering with BT, we were able to help the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service Health and Social Care Trust (NIAS) achieve their mission in creating a second control room in a matter of days. This meant that its control room colleagues could continue supporting the public, whilst being socially distanced.

However, the technology progression isn’t always easy to implement by public sector organisations. Indeed, while policing – and other emergency sectors – had already been changing as the world became more connected, the pandemic has accelerated the need to become future-proofed. In short, technology is playing a pivotal role in the public safety response of today, and certainly of tomorrow.

Looking ahead to 2021

The cost of coronavirus will make future decision-making in the public sector difficult, there will be a need to “balance the books” at some point.

This might mean that technology will become a key enabler to achieving and maintaining efficiency and effectiveness more so than ever before, and we’re here to help that become a reality. 

But in a year where public safety provision has been pushed to its limits, there has been very little time to stop and reflect. As we enter the festive period, let’s take that moment. Let’s recount the contributions you’ve made, and acknowledge the sacrifices you and your teams have endured to protect us. 

 

About the author

Ian Blackhurst is Executive Director of the Safety division within Northgate Public Services. His teams work to support every UK police force with its technology, a number of justice providers and other public safety services.

Northgate Public Services also supports thousands of government, housing and healthcare providers to deliver critical services to the public in the UK and around the world.