Carried out in collaboration with the National Police Wellbeing Service (NPWS), the research project was led by Professor Jason Roach, Director of the Secure Societies Institute and the Applied Criminology and Policing Centre at the University of Huddersfield.
Working alongside him from the University, were Dr Melanie Flynn, Dr Ashley Cartwright, with the help of PhD researchers Liam Curran and Rebecca McCarthy.
An electronic survey conducted by the research team on behalf of the NPWS was distributed to the thousands of police staff working during the pandemic across England and Wales. Once evaluated, the researchers then conducted a series of in-depth interviews exploring the issues raised by the survey responses.
New recruits found it quite hectic
On the findings, Professor Jason Roach commented:
"We found that more experienced front line police officers reported being less affected by working during the pandemic than those who were newer in service.
"Those who are longer in service tend to be more comfortable with the fact every time they go to work, they don’t quite know what’s going to happen, whereas those recruited immediately prior to the Lockdown period, were the ones who felt the most anxious policing during the pandemic,” he said.
"They didn’t receive ‘the usual’ early experiences a police officer might expect to have. For example, there were no football matches to police, no night-time economy, no pub fights to break up and sort out. And they reported that they were getting called to more domestic violence abuse incidents. So, for them it was quite hectic,” Professor Roach added.
He revealed how police staff, non-sworn officers for example those taking witness statements, victim support officers, admin and press teams, often working from home and in isolation, were among those who reported working during the pandemic had impacted their wellbeing the most. Particularly during the first ‘Lockdown’.
He believes one of the most important elements of the survey was asking the respondents to first answer questions about the levels of anxiety felt about COVID-19 at the very beginning, in March 2020.
This provided the researchers with a baseline to compare whether those who reported being anxious about COVID-19 in general, were also those who felt that it had negatively impacted upon their wellbeing the most. This also helped them to gauge whether police officers and staff felt less negative about working during the pandemic, the longer it proceeded.
"Although we found those most anxious about COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic also reported that working during this time had more of an impact on their wellbeing, all respondents reported that their levels of anxiety lessened as the pandemic progressed,” he said.
The interviews conducted by the team revealed this was either due to the availability of vaccines, having had COVID and regained full health, or that they had simply become familiar of working in a COVID environment.
"Ultimately, what our research demonstrates is that police officers and staff are human like the rest of us, and their wellbeing is just as vulnerable, which is often forgotten because they do such a difficult and dangerous job,” concluded Professor Roach.
National policing response to the pandemic
As a response to the difficulties that arose during the pandemic, the National Police Wellbeing Service led by its Director Andy Rhodes, who at the time was also Chief Constable of Lancashire Constabulary, created and set up the COVID-19 hub, via the oscarkilo.org.uk website.
Here, officers and staff from the nation’s police forces could access advice, resources and guidance as well be signposted to accurate and up-to-date information. The NPWS also supported the national policing response to the pandemic titled ‘Op Talla’.
The NPWS celebrated the fantastic work carried out by police officers and staff to provide wellbeing support throughout police forces in England and Wales during the pandemic by hosting the Oscar Kilo Awards 2022.
The idea to carry out research on police wellbeing originated after Professor Roach recognised research into NHS staff wellbeing, for those working on the frontline during the pandemic, had been well documented, but the same couldn’t be said for the nation’s police officers and their psychological, emotional and physical ‘wellbeing’.
Protecting police wellbeing in ‘future pandemic-like scenarios'
He believes the findings from this research will contribute to how police wellbeing in ‘pandemic-like scenarios’ might be better supported, particularly how those most anxious about pandemics in general might be better identified and supported from the beginning, and how those who must shield and work from home will come under pressure from trying to work whilst caring for and home-schooling their children.
Professor Roach is planning to publish the findings from the study in an academic paper which will be presented to the UK College of Policing to inform them of how-to best support police wellbeing should any future pandemic-like scenarios take place.