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Coronavirus (COVID-19): the policing response and what you need to know

Police Officers with Covid-19

Date of request: January 18, 2021
Reference: 073/21

Request

How many police officers have contracted COVID-19 since March 1st 2020?

I would like this information broken down by month from March 1st 2020, up to and including today’s date. If data has not been included up to and including today’s date, please provide me with data starting from March 1st 2020, to the latest date where data is available.

Of the number of police officers that have contracted COVID-19 since March 1st 2020, how many of them had to take a period of sick leave that lasted over 14 days as a result?

 

Response

Please find below a breakdown of the number of Police Officers who have been absent for work between 1st March 2020 and 30th November 2020. The data provided is based on officers recording their absence as ‘Covid-Confirmed.’

It is worth noting that since 23rd March all non-operational officers have been able to work remotely (at home) therefore the figures provided may not be a true reflection of absence. Furthermore, there is no mandatory requirement for members of staff to inform the constabulary of their Covid status.

Please also note that the data set below may show the same officer more than once if they have reported more than once absence due to Covid-19.

Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov
5 4 3 1 1 0 4 12 19

A total of 10 officers have had an absence that lasted longer than 14 days. Please note this figure only includes days an officer normally works, i.e. excludes all non-working days.

I am not obliged to supply you with any further information requested in question one. The exemption applicable to this information is

  • Section 31 – Law Enforcement.

This is a qualified and prejudice based exemption and as such a harm and public interest test needs to be conducted.

Harm Test

Information will not be disclosed where the current or future law enforcement role of the constabulary may be compromised by the release of that information, i.e. where the prevention/detection of crime, the apprehension/prosecution of offenders or the administration of justice may be hindered as a result of the release of information.

There are concerns associated with the release of specific information relating to the number of officers currently absent from the force. Disclosure of information concerning the number of officers currently absent would cause operational harm and affect our ability to prevent and detect crime. Crime may escalate at certain times in certain areas if it is perceived that there are fewer officers on duty. If operational information is disclosed about officer and resource deployment figures, it could enable individuals or groups intent on committing crime to do so at times when they believed they had a reduced chance of being detected.

Public interest test

Factors favouring disclosure

The requested information relates to the ongoing global pandemic and the operational strain that officers absent from service would have on the force. In this case disclosure of the number of officers currently absent from the force would demonstrate to the public that Avon and Somerset Constabulary are taking the health and safety of its officers into consideration whilst they serve the force.

Factors favouring non-disclosure

Where areas of the force are highlighted as having a different police presence than others, individuals with the intention of committing an offence may target locations or act during times with a lower police presence believing that their chances of committing undetected crime and evading arrest would be higher. In this case a clear link exists between knowledge available to criminals and the way they operate, the result of this increased knowledge may subsequently impact on our policing role.

Furthermore if police forces across the UK were to disclose the number of officers currently absent from the force due to coronavirus this may highlight the forces which currently have a higher number of absentees. This would therefore allow for a comparison of police resource levels across forces and would enable individuals to target their activities when and where they believe they are less likely to be detected and apprehended. It is well know that those intent of committing criminal activities frequently use Freedom of Information requests to gain knowledge and understanding of UK police forces resources and operational capabilities. If these criminals believe there to be an opportunity to take advantage of such information they will do so with the resultant negative effect to law enforcement. If there is a risk that the future law enforcement role of the constabulary could be compromised and the publics’ safety put at risk, it cannot be justified that the public interest would be served in releasing this specific information if either of these aspects were to be compromised in any way.

Balancing test

When balancing the public interest test we have to consider whether the information should be released into the public domain.  Arguments need to be weighed against each other. The efficiency and effectiveness of the force must be measured against the risk of disclosing information which would assist potential offenders in avoiding detection. Should this information be available to the less law abiding members of our community they could perceive it to be an opportunity to take advantage of such information which negatively affect law enforcement.

After weighing up the competing interests, I have determined that the disclosure of the above information is not in the public interest.  Protecting the community is of paramount importance to the constabulary. I believe the harm considerations and the importance of protecting our abilities to enforce the law and protect the public outweigh those considerations favouring disclosure.

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