Chairman of the British Transport Police Federation
Nigel posts regular blog comments of issues of importance to policing and the BTPF in particular.
Colleagues, here is the monthly Federation blog for March 2021. May I start by firstly sharing our thoughts for all those officers who have been assaulted and seriously injured during another month of serious unlawful violence.
Genuine law-abiding protestors don't attend events with the intention of causing chaos, criminal damage and to attack policing. Nevertheless, yet again we witness our colleagues around the country, including BTP officers, being attacked for simply doing their job, whilst being scruntinised by the media, armchair observers, and certain politicians. The same politicians who demand forces police the ever-changing Covid regulations. Echoing what many have said, we are damned if we do and damned if we don't.
I want to reassure all in BTP and other forces that you all have our appreciation and support, and I am sure I speak for the majority in society. We cannot allow hooligans and thugs to start demanding control of our high streets and cities, especially during a global pandemic when lives are still at risk.
"Kill the Bill" may be a protest for some genuine people, targeting the proposed government Policing Bill currently going through parliament, nevertheless a minority of others take an opportunity to use it as a threat. There is no doubt in my mind that it is a menacing message and is being interpreted by that minority to target policing. So, anyone acting in a demonstration supporting, enticing, or encouraging people to attack police officers will face justice. Society expects us to protect people and property.
In doing so, officers face being attacked; spat at, punched, and kicked in the shins by people wearing steel toe capped boots, while defending themselves from flying objects, such as bricks, bottles and fencing. Tactics some media fail to report and actions that go unnoticed by those sitting in their armchairs playing judge and jury against the excellent police service this country has.
You are doing a brilliant job in very difficult and testing times. You stand between good and evil, and many rely on you too often to just pitch up, wear your uniform and accept what is thrown at you. It's amazing how often you all run towards danger and overwhelming how often the critics lambast you for doing what many wouldn't do in the interest of law and order and peaceful protest. They seem to forget you are mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, who on occasions have to go home to your family after a very long shift, battered and bruised, injured and suffering from exhaustion.
How demoralising then to have to listen to those who sit untouched and unscathed by this violence, criticising policing without hesitation. Shame on those who join such rhetoric, make one-sided comments and provide 'expert' advice about something they are watching on TV. It's neither factual nor informative. Police officers are not pawns in a game of political chess; we are not beyond criticism but the facts should be understood before commentary is made.
To all in BTP and the wider policing family we say be proud of what you do and how you protect the majority of society, because we are certainly proud of you all.
Recent events also demonstrate why the Government should have prioritised frontline police officers when it came to issuing COVID-19 vaccinations. We are truly disappointed and disheartened by this Government's failure in their duty to protect frontline key workers, especially frontline police officers; officers who cannot police from a two metres distance, as proven in Bristol. We are also disappointed to hear the Home Secretary suggesting on national TV that police officers are receiving the vaccinations through local partnership working with local NHS centres. A very misleading statement indeed.
Officers in certain locations are receiving leftover vaccinations at the end of the working day, but this isn't happening across the entire country and certainly not in BTP. We have a very young workforce and we still have major concerns that our officers remain at risk from a killer virus, whilst being expected to get up close and personal. We continue to campaign and encourage both our Force and Government to be more proactive in getting officers and staff vaccinated.
As many of you will know some of the recent protests are in response to the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill being debated in parliament.
Part of that new Bill covers the proposed Police Covenant that enshrines in law, protection for Police Officers, Police Staff, Specials, Retired Police Officers and their welfare and wellbeing. Sadly, as reported previously this Bill doesn't cover non-Home Office police officers. Why, I hear you ask?
We don't truly understand why. No explanation has been offered by the Home Office or other sponsoring departments in Westminster. You wear a police uniform, you all hold the office of constable, you are all expected to respond and act in accordance with Police Regulations, your cap badge does not separate you when a crime is being committed on or off your jurisdiction. The public sees a police officer and the expectations for all police officers are the same regardless of which force you are in.
Events in Bristol were a recent case in point as BTP supported Avon and Somerset Police. Officers wore the same uniforms, the same equipment, were expected to police the same public order event and faced the same threat. Nonetheless the protection being afforded to non-Home Office officers is in the form of a simple Memorandum of Understanding, not enshrined in legislation. How can that be right?
Some would suggest it is because the Home Secretary has overall responsibility for policing in England and Wales, and therefore does not have ownership or control of non-Home Office Police Forces. Therefore, the legislation is written for police officers of England and Wales only and does not cover Scotland or Northern Ireland where some of the non-Home Office forces also police.
Personally, we believe it's been placed into the 'too difficult' category. Our force and the other non-Home Office forces are governed and managed by Westminster, not Scotland or Northern Ireland. To suggest there are devolved matters to be considered which makes it difficult, hence why we are not written into the legislation, proves to us that yet again this Government wants to rush through legislation, without engaging or considering the views and thoughts of those affected.
Yes, the Home Office has engaged with PFEW, but PFEW do not represent non-Home Office forces. They would not have lobbied on your behalf and they certainly don't want to delay this Bill because there are so many positives especially for officers and Specials in England and Wales. That said we believe a small delay would have been acceptable if it meant that all in policing could receive the same level of protection and we would like to have been given the opportunity to explain such.
Update 8 April 2021: Following a very productive meeting with PFEW, we are working together to lobby ministers and MPs for the benefit of all officers. There is recognition of the unique status and role of BTP officers and the importance of your welfare being considered in the same way as it will be for officers from Home Office forces.
Unfortunately, that isn't the case so we continue to lobby MP's and members of the Lords. We continue to work with BTP and the Authority who support our position that all Police Officers should be covered by this legislation. We continue to work with our colleagues in the Civil Nuclear Police Federation and the Defence Police Federation. We have instructed lawyers and barristers to look at potential amendments and we are engaging with experts in parliament to ask questions of those making the decision. While the legislation is in draft form there remains an opportunity for the legislators to include us all.
While on the topic of wellbeing, the Force has been working tirelessly behind the scenes to launch its new Wellbeing Hub. This will be available via the intranet will bring together all the support services and advice you need to help you look after your physical, mental, and emotional health.
The Wellbeing Hub can be accessed on all devices and contains a wealth of information and contacts - all in one place. It will provide quick and easy access to the information you need such as Support Services, TRiM, BTP Assist (our Employee Support Association), Back Up Buddy, Access to Work mental health scheme, Oscar Kilo, and our Occupational Health Team.
It will also provide health advice relating to stress, anxiety, sleep, healthy eating, physical activity, bereavement, finance matters, and links to information about women's and men's health issues such as breast cancer and prostate cancer. It will also offer support for your family. BTP recognises that the pressures of policing can often impact on your family life and the wellbeing of loved ones, so they have included details of organisations which can help your loved ones including Police Care UK, Police Mutual Careline and Young Minds.
There will be news bulletins and notices, information on forthcoming events, activities, and new wellbeing resources. The Wellbeing Knowledge Hub will be continually refreshed and developed as new content is added including additional sections for Health and Safety in due course. This project now has a Chief Officer sponsor in ACC Doyle, the force Wellbeing Champion, and he encourages everyone to make use of the wellbeing knowledge hub and the wealth of information available.
Furthermore, I am pleased to report that the Police Treatment Centres will reopen on Monday 26 April 2021. Applications are now being accepted for both the Physiotherapy and Psychological Wellbeing programmes. If you are paying member you can apply if you need treatment or are waiting for treatment. Any applications should be submitted to the Federation and not direct to the centres. If you are not a member, please visit the centre's website and read up on the benefits. This is a charity and one that supports all police officers and specials.
Diversity and Inclusion Q&A
Thank you to all those officers who submitted questions for the Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Team. We have now conducted a 2-hour video chat with Ch/Supt Dennis Murray and Barry Boffy, asking them the questions that you posed. I genuinely believe there was great value for both the Federation and the Force in having this session, where Mr Murray and Mr Boffy were honest, open, and frank in their responses, whilst understanding the reasons for some of the questions. I have personally learnt a lot from this and many other discussions regarding diversity and inclusion.
The session was recorded, and we will be circulating the recording for you to view and share; bear with us while we create a transcript of the session for ease of access. If anyone has any other questions, then please don't hesitate to contact us or visit the dedicated area on the intranet. If any of you would like to learn more about or participate in the Diversity, Equality and Inclusion forums please contact Barry Boffy who will send out invitations.
I appreciate some will ask; what has this got to do with me? Well equality, diversity and inclusion impacts on us all and the more we all engage, the better we will understand the concerns and needs of others. Equality, diversity and inclusion will improve things for all of us. It's also not solely about race or gender; it's about everyone in the organisation, it's about wider policing relationships, it's about having a better understanding when dealing with an inequality issue, it is about improving our understanding of why people react differently to certain circumstances and it hopefully enables us to build confidence and ensure we all feel comfortable to have conversations about equality and diversity.
I genuinely feel passionate about this work and want to encourage more of you to get involved and engage. I know it's not easy especially when we hear terms such as "institutional racism", "homophobic" and "misogynist" levelled against us. In society there is a minority of people who hate others and in policing we will also have a minority who hold certain views. We all know the difference between provocative and insulting language targeting a particular individual or group and someone using the wrong phrase or making a clumsy comment in an attempt to engage and educate themselves. No one wants to hear insulting words or behaviour, but we must create a culture of sharing thoughts, views and opinions and asking questions we can learn from whilst being respectful, measured and professional.
Look out for the Force's "Let's Talk" campaign. Whatever your background, gender, sexuality, race, age or disability please join in so we can educate and support each other and move away from the blame culture.
Annual leave and RDIL
As stated last month, many officers have a backlog of annual leave and RDIL. You continue to come in to work and serve but you really can't sustain the level of performance of the last year without some time out. We've had 12 months of policing this pandemic, 12 months of uncertainty, ever changing policing posture, changes in rosters and changes in COVID regulations, not to mention being unable to see family and friends. It's been relentless and you deserve a break.
Why do I mention this again? Before we know it, summer will be upon us and this summer is guaranteed to be a summer like no other. Not only will we see an uplift in the footfall on our jurisdiction due to lockdown lifting, but we have the Euros in June/July and one match which will be resource-intensive is England vs Scotland at Wembley. We also have the G7 summit in Cornwall, Ascot, Notting Hill Carnival, COP26 in Scotland, and various concerts to name but a few. On top of that there is the potential for more protests in and around our cities.
We have been in discussions with the Force about how this summer is going to impact on you and your work life balance. BTP assures us they want to minimise disruption to your time away from work, but know that's going to be a very difficult due to the busy schedule of known events and the possibility of unknown events that will start to appear as lockdown lifts.
This is why it is so important that you book your leave. Get some time in the diary to relax, switch off from the pressures of work and benefit from some 'me time'. Summer is going to busy for all and if you are relying on leaving it until the last minute to book your leave and take some time off, I would seriously suggest you re-think your plans. The likelihood is that lastminute.com leave applications - especially between 11 June 2021 and 12 July 2021 - are not going to be authorised at this late stage, no matter where you are based. So, our advice is that if you haven't booked it yet, get some leave in now, use some of those RDIL's and take some time out while you can.
The next phase of the Government's roadmap out of lockdown commences at the end of this month. Easter is upon us and we can expect to see an increase in the number of people travelling on our jurisdiction as the weather improves. We all know this will attract a minority of people intent on making a nuisance of themselves and causing other passengers and rail staff to feel unsafe. Given that many of you still haven't received the vaccination, please don't be complacent about your safety. The risk is still there and increasing in certain areas of the country and no-one can afford to be policing without appropriate PPE. You need to remain vigilant and aware of the threat and treat those breaching regulations as if they are carrying the virus. We don't want anyone of you suffering the consequences of this virus even if you have managed to be vaccinated.
BTP Authority meeting
This month we attended the BTP Authority public meeting; you can see the agenda here. Of note is the Chief Executive Report and the Chief Constable Report (written by T/CC Hanstock).
What was of interest was an enquiry by the authority asking about officer welfare, particularly annual leave, time off, current commitments, and level of morale bearing in mind the hours you are all working and recognising the conditions that you are working in. The discussions also covered some of the points I have raised above.
We also heard welcome reassurance that the Authority and the Secretary of State are supportive of BTP officers and staff being covered by the Police Covenant, again as mentioned above. The attendees were given reassurance that the DFT and Secretary of State are linking in with the Home Office and other sponsoring departments on this.
It was also very pleasing to hear the new Chief Constable describe her first few days, how exciting it has been, how proud she is to be the Chief and how positive everyone is about the excellent work of BTP officers and staff.
Finally, on that note, we would like to take this opportunity to welcome our newly appointed Chief Constable, Lucy D'Orsi. What was nice to see is that on her first day she didn't go straight to FHQ, albeit she has already been to introduce herself prior to joining officially, but went out in full uniform in Birmingham. The response and chats that I have witnessed suggests this was welcomed and appreciated immediately by many. Getting out, speaking with officers and stakeholders is the Chief's intention for the next couple of months.
There is a real sense of excitement, a good feel factor and a feeling that the new Chief will listen. She will obviously expect continued excellent standards, whilst ensuring your views and thoughts are considered. As a Federation we look forward to working with Ma'am D'Orsi and we will support her in the best job in policing. Hopefully, we will all see the benefits of a Chief Constable who empowers others to act on their own initiative and make decisions whilst being supportive and building confidence so we can all engage, provide thoughts and views that help shape BTP whilst being proud to be a BTP officers.
Quote of the Month:
"Don't wait. The time will never be just right"