Communications has had a really vital role in helping our communities and our staff and officers understand and react to the coronavirus threat. This series of blogs highlights the critical roles we, as communicators, have played in helping the policing family tackle the complexities of the last six months.
I’d like to take you back to January when were all in a happy PC (Pre-COVID) bubble, unaware of what was ahead.
I work part-time to balance life with a young family and was offered the opportunity to do an extra day a week to be part of an exciting project. Channel 4’s 999: What’s Your Emergency? was to feature South Yorkshire Police and needed a comms officer to be SPOC. I was desperate to be part of it; when I’m not at work, you’ll find me watching all the fly-on-the-wall policing programmes you care to mention, so this was the dream.
I spent a long time considering the extra day, trying to balance being ‘Mum’ with my desire to take advantage of what felt like a once-in-a-career opportunity. If only I’d known that a few short weeks later, we’d be thrown together as a family in a way nobody could have predicted! It taught me a valuable lesson: worrying is generally a waste of time – you never know what’s ahead.
Looking back, I smile at my naïve optimism as I plunged into the project. I had no idea of the complexity, the demand it would place on me, the number of plates I’d have to spin. But it was great! The filming crew was hugely impressed with the passion and empathy our officers and contact centre staff demonstrated within their roles, and a couple of weeks into filming we agreed we’d extend by two weeks because the content they were getting was so good.
On Friday 20 March we paused filming due to the pandemic. It just wasn’t appropriate to continue as our officers were trying to deal with the additional demands placed on them as COVID progressed. It was disappointing but necessary.
Work for the production team continued, and I was just as busy. Legal checks for the featured incidents, compiling body worn cam and custody footage, CCTV from third parties, complaints from members of the public – the list has been endless. And this was all taking place as I negotiated working from home and trying to be ‘teacher’ to a 4 and 6-year-old.
This experience has been a steep (and unique) learning curve. Nobody could have anticipated that this work would have to be carried out against the backdrop of a pandemic. If I did it again I’d be more confident at pushing back to the production team at times. For example, when we took the decision to suspend filming there were several interesting offers of measures they could take to allow it to continue, but ultimately, from an operational and officer safety perspective the only option was to stop. There was also a request to progress with officer interviews when we were deep in lockdown and it just wouldn’t have been appropriate. Their objective was to make a great series of programmes. Ours was to accommodate the filming whilst also ensuring the impact on our day-to-day work was minimised.
In the next couple of weeks, officers and contact centre staff interviews will finally take place. They will give context to the incidents that will feature. Extra measures have been put in place to reduce risk as much as we can. This includes a carefully chosen location that offers lots of space so that social distancing can be observed, only two members of production staff who will be in full PPE, and a room with a dedicated entrance/exit for those being filmed – considerations that wouldn’t even have entered our minds six months ago.
I can’t wait to see the finished product. This is a great opportunity to give the public an insight into the demand placed on their police force day in, day out – and that can only be a good thing.
Jenny Leaning, Communications Officer at South Yorkshire Police