A police federation has called on policymakers in England and Wales to avoid “mixed messages” over future Covid regulations, after research suggested only 10% of officers felt their previously introduced powers were clear.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson should aim “not to repeat the lack of clarity over last year’s pandemic measures” ahead revealing his “road map” out of England’s lockdown, the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) said.
Its warning comes alongside the release of PFEW research suggesting one in 10 officers in England and Wales agreed with the statement “new police powers introduced to manage the Covid-19 crisis have been clear”.
Some 71% of respondents to the Demand, Capacity and Welfare Survey disagreed with the statement, while 19% neither agreed or disagreed.
The survey, carried out between October 5 and November 23 last year received 12,471 “viable responses”, the PFEW said, with the response rate being “approximately 10% of all federated rank officers in England and Wales”.
During the pandemic, police officers have adopted the “four E’s” approach to implementing Covid regulations – engage, explain, encourage and enforce.
But the PFEW survey found that just 24% of respondents agreed this had been effective when dealing with the public.
PFEW’s national chair John Apter said: “Given the fact that there have been more than 60 rule changes introduced during the pandemic, it comes as no surprise whatsoever that only 10% of police officers who responded to our survey said they found the Covid-19 rule changes to be clear.
“We have been saying from the beginning, clear guidance on what people can and can’t do is needed; otherwise people will inadvertently fall foul of the law or may take advantage of the mixed messages.
“And it’s my colleagues who are on the frontline of these changes, continually playing catch-up to get their heads around the latest information.”
The PFEW report also found that 32% of respondents reported that a member of the public who they believed to have Covid-19 had threatened to breathe or cough on them at least once in the last six months, with nearly a quarter (24%) saying this was actually attempted.
The report said those in “custody” and “response” roles had the largest proportion of respondents experiencing such incidents, which could indicate they were “at higher risk of Covid-19 being weaponised against them”.
Some 36% of respondents said they were “very” or “extremely” concerned about having adequate access to Covid-19 testing and 34% felt similarly about becoming unwell due to having close contact with someone with Covid while in the line of duty.
Overall, 26% of respondents believed they had already had coronavirus, with 45% of these believing it had been contracted through work-related activities.
Earlier this month, police federation leaders warned that a failure to prioritise the vaccination of frontline police officers against Covid-19 would be “a deep betrayal and will not be forgiven or forgotten”.
Mr Apter suggested the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and authorities in England and Wales “read this report very carefully”.
He added: “Then they can attempt to explain to my colleagues on the front line why, after the most vulnerable have been vaccinated, they should not be prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccination.”
The PFEW says it represents more than 130,000 police officers up to and including the rank of chief inspector.