'He spat at me and said have some of my corona': Policing Britain during the coronavirus lockdown

Policing Britain: Cops in Lockdown – ITV's Tonight programme on Thursday 7th May at 19.30

As lockdown conditions continue to take their toll on the country, what has life been like for Britain's frontline police officers, tasked with keeping us safe in these unique and unprecedented times?

ITV’s Tonight programme is out with Merseyside Police to investigate the extraordinary impact the pandemic is having on their ability to combat crime, whilst keeping themselves and the public safe.

The job has changed beyond recognition for many police officers. Credit: ITV Tonight

It's barely a month since PC Gemma Doyle completed her training.

Like many other new constables, she graduated early to help cover for police missing from work because of Covid-19.

But in a few short weeks the job she signed up to has changed beyond all recognition.

I meet her out on a patrol near Anfield in Liverpool with her partner PC Molly Ryder.

As the city's response team it’s their job to police the lockdown. With the sun back out, the streets are no longer empty.

In the local park, they politely but firmly persuade a group of bored teenagers they need to move on. Children out riding their bikes for more than an hour are told to head home.

Merseyside Police have told children and teenagers to adhere to the social distancing rules. Credit: ITV Tonight

Then they’re called to a barbecue being held on the pavement outside a small terraced house.

The chicken is grilling to perfection as the evening draws in and a few months ago no one would have blinked an eye.

Now the gathering is quickly shut down because some of the guests don’t live at the property and have clearly driven over for the evening.

It’s one of those moments when it hits you again just how much our lives have changed. Almost overnight, our most basic freedoms have been taken away and it's fallen to people like Gemma and Molly to police it.

I ask them if they feel sorry for the family who explain they just wanted to mark their four-year-old's birthday.

Gemma says: "He can't celebrate with his whole family, but we're all in the same boat."

She adds: "Even though we're stood in a uniform and we're out doing our job. We've also got families that we can’t celebrate with."

"If people don't listen to what they're supposed to be doing, then people are just going to go out and crack on with plans and then that's just going to have massive, massive implications."

Like every other officer in the country Gemma and Molly are having to enforce the new legislation with no rule book, no training, and no choice.

The Merseyside force has taken a gentle approach, relying on encouragement rather than the more draconian policing sometimes seen elsewhere.

But it’s still not easy. Officers are having to find a brand-new way of working, just as they are trying to police our new way of living.

Merseyside Police has taken a gentle approach to enforcing the lockdown rules. Credit: Tonight

Most of the public seem to appreciate that. But others have tried to use the virus as a weapon against the very people charged with stopping its spread.

I meet one of Gemma’s colleagues, a young police constable called Markluke Hanson, whose initial training also came to an abrupt end last month when the crisis began.

He tells me how a suspect he tried to restrain in custody spat in his face during his first fortnight on the job.

It’s a reminder that despite the PPE police officers are given, they are never fully protected from the virus.

By the end of Gemma's shift she and Molly have been in and out of four different properties.

Some of the calls have been alleged domestic abuse emergencies and although the call handler asks if the virus is present it’s not something either woman pauses to check before rushing in.

Their first instinct is to make sure everyone inside is safe before they consider any danger to themselves.

As the next call comes in over the radio, Gemma describes how she showers at the end of every shift before hugging her young daughter.

It reminds me just how much of a debt we owe to officers like her and Molly.

No, the police haven’t always got it right since the virus took hold, but every day they’re out there trying to stop its spread.

While we’ve grown used to applauding the NHS, their work remains pretty thankless.

Policing Britain in lockdown isn’t the job they signed up for, but it’s one they are putting themselves on the line for, nonetheless.

You can watch ITV Tonight's 'Policing Britain: Cops in Lockdown' on Thursday 7 May at 7:30pm.

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