West Mercia Police Superintendent on coping with flooding and Covid-19
West Mercia Police Superintendent, Jim Baker, reflects on the difficulties 2020 has posed - from flooding to the coronavirus crisis.
At midnight on New Year’s Eve I was patrolling BewdIey, and by chance I was able to wish a happy new year to one of the Telford detective inspectors who was enjoying the celebrations with his wife.
I imagine none of us envisaged the way the year would develop as the fireworks soared into the air and well-wishers enthusiastically shouted out “happy new year” to all and sundry.
In early January I returned to a policing role in Telford as the local policing commander. I had previously worked on the patch in 2013 -14 and I had coveted the role for many years with plans to build upon the strong policing team and excellent local partnership working with agencies such as Telford & Wrekin Council.
The year of 2020 was still in its infancy when we experienced prolonged and relentless wet weather, leading to exceptional flooding events and as we exited one natural challenge, we rolled straight into our response to the Covid-19 outbreak. One of the foundations to supporting the communities of Shropshire is the Local Resilience Forum or LRF for short.
Every community across the country is covered by an LRF which plans, prepares and delivers multi-agency responses to significant civil emergencies. It has groups at both the strategic level and local tactical level. The areas covered by West Mercia Police, including our local policing areas of Shropshire and Telford form the West Mercia Strategic Co-ordinating Group. Tactical delivery is based on three separate county level groups – as with Shropshire and Telford combining to form a single Tactical Co-ordinating Group (TCG) for the county.
Our group meets throughout the year to develop and test plans but spontaneously forms to meet the needs of emergencies. The River Severn plays a significant role in our communities and as such of all the emergencies we face as a community we are most familiar with the challenges of river floods. Having said that, as we all know the 2020 floods and Storm Dennis was a little bit different to the normal.
For the floods Shropshire Fire and Rescue made available their HQ facility to base the partnership response from. Commandeering their main meeting room we were made most welcome and the resources they contributed in terms of staffing, accommodation and communication were critical in ensuring such a strong emergency response. Please pardon the pun, but we describe flooding as a rising tide event – where we receive detailed analysis from Met Office and Environmental Agency colleagues and we try to predict the scale and rate of river levels in order to plan an appropriate level of support: and consider any contingencies. Although our riverside towns receive most of the attention – I was particularly pleased when we were able to deploy a joint West Midlands Ambulance, Shropshire Fire and Rescue and West Mercia Police team to the communities of Melverley to check and meet any community needs.
At the peak of the flooding the group was meeting three times a day: and when the barriers shifted in Ironbridge an on-site conference took place at midnight. With the floods physical meetings enhanced joint working, built relationships and aided the delivery of services. As we entered a response to Covid-19 we have had to abandon the physical co-location and adopt more telephone conferencing arrangements, something we are all more than familiar with at the moment.
The primary role of the tactical group (TCG) during Covid-19 has been to support the response led by Public Health England and with the support of local authority colleagues. The NHS established strong and robust command-and-control arrangements from very early on in the pandemic and as chairman of the TCG it has been my ambition to support those individual agency responses. Both Shropshire Council and Telford & Wrekin Council have led their individual responses to vulnerable community members including care-home support and distribution of personal protective equipment. The pragmatism and sharing of PPE across both areas has reflected the excellent working relationships between colleagues.
Of course, normal day-to-day activity continues for all agencies. In policing we have seen significant reductions in reported crime, but we remain vigilant particularly around crime committed within domestic settings.
I would like to conclude by recognising and thanking everyone right across the county for their support, understanding and co-operation during these incredibly difficult and different times, the support we receive from our local communities is incredibly important and never something we would take for granted. I would also like to thank all colleagues from across the public and private sectors for their commitment in dealing with the emergencies of 2020, and a special mention to my colleagues, all of our police officers and staff, who continue to go the extra mile to protect our communities from harm.