PSNI expects to lose half of all officers to Covid-19 self isolation

PSNI officers on patrol in Belfast City Centre. Picture Mal McCann.

Police officers are seriously under-resourced for a worst case scenario Covid-19 outbreak which could see half the force succumb to illness.

Almost all officers are to be redirected from other duties to front line policing in the next week.

Some of the officers have been on desk duty for so long they've had to be fitted with new PSNI uniforms so they can go back out on patrol.

Officers say that safety equipment is at a premium, including basic items such as gloves and masks, and they have no facility as yet to detain potentially infected suspects in a way that doesn't put others at risk.

At a senior briefing, police officers were warned that in a worst case scenario the force could lose up to half its officers to illness or family self isolation.

All PSNI promotions have been postponed with the upcoming sergeant and inspector interview processes now shelved.

Emergency response officers are currently being deployed with the same colleague each shift rather than rotated.

"We are being crewed together, permanently, so that we only infect each other. The normal scenario is to work with a different person each shift", one officer told the Irish News.

"PPE is at a premium, masks are pretty scarce".

The officer said the real problems will come once Northern Ireland goes into lockdown, expected to happen within days.

"Say officers have to attend houses for domestic assaults, if a person has the virus or is even suspected of having the virus, custody don't want them, A&E won't want them, we can't just let them go, they could kill someone. What do we do?

"To enforce a lockdown will be chaos.

"You can ask someone nicely to go home but some just won't heed it".

The officer added that there has been no direction as yet as to where non conplying citizens will be held.

Prisons are in the process of releasing inmates to reduce the prison population and keep numbers low for the duration of the crisis, limiting where suspects can be placed ahead of court appearances, which have also been reduced in the magistrates court to essential hearings.

Officers say they are not properly equipped for what lies ahead, emergency powers are expected to be put in place across the UK by the end of the week.

"People (officers) are checking now if they even have the right uniform to go out. For some, it's been years since they've been in greens.

"We are not prepared at all for what's ahead".

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