There’s no doubt about it – the next few weeks are going to be tough. At the time of writing there are 1,372 people in the UK who have tested positive for the Covid-19 virus and 35 have died.
These numbers will rise before they fall, and as testing becomes impractical they will become less reliable. Health officials will only be able to work out the true extent of the pandemic once the spike of patients has reduced significantly and they can run tests.
The impact of the disease economically and to our way of life will be enormous – at least in the short term. Events from football matches to business conferences have been cancelled or postponed and every organisation in the region has had to consider how best to respond.
The effects of the pandemic on society – from holiday cancellations to supermarket toilet roll supplies and the postponement of May elections – have been widely reported in the media, but there is a hidden threat that my office and the police are now planning to mitigate, the potential for rises in certain types of crime that we see whenever people spend significant amounts of time with their families at home.
Government advice on this is of course subject to change, but currently anyone with a cough and/or a high temperature is advised to stay home for at least seven days from the start of symptoms. This helps protect others while someone is infectious.
Unfortunately we have to prepare for a rise in incidents of crimes such as domestic abuse that might go hand in hand with a period of mass isolation.
We have been encouraging victims of domestic abuse to report their crimes in recent years, and services for victims and the police response to reports have improved as reporting rises. We still think it is under-reported and a Rural Crime Survey carried out two years ago suggests that in isolated areas victims are less likely to seek help, and communities are less likely to report suspicions that crimes might be happening behind closed doors.
At the moment the vast majority of schools are open in this country but that situation might change. Sadly some children in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are safer when they attend school regularly. It is through schools that signs that something might be wrong at home are picked up and reported.
People also need to be made aware that there are individuals who see any situation like this as an opportunity to scam others. We have already seen fake hand gel being sold and two days ago the BBC reported how hackers were sending emails to people offering a Covid-19 ‘cure’.
So what can we do to help? I am responsible for delivering victim care in the force area and my team is working closely with the Victim Care Network we commission to ensure that help is on hand to those who need it. The strength of this system is that we work with charities and not for profit organisations across the region and there is a certain amount of resilience in that model.
Of course, these organisations are also facing the possibility of losing a significant amount of their staff to the virus, so in the next week or so we will be helping them to disseminate vital information to victims of crime, whether those victims have reported their crime or not, help will be on hand.
One of the ways I can do this is by providing a live webchat system for victims of crime through the Victim Support charity. My office will be publishing details of how this works on its website and distributing it via Neighbourhood Alert.
Our police force is well prepared to deal with the situation and has detailed plans in place for precisely this situation. In fact, our Deputy Chief Constable, Paul Netherton, is the national lead for resilience, emergency planning and risk, so we could not be better informed or equipped.
We are also blessed with higher levels of community spirit than many other parts of the country, and we should not underestimate how important that might be in the next few weeks. The Victim Care Unit, police and charities can call on the help of numerous volunteers to give a bit extra in times of stress, and now more than ever we need people to be keeping an eye out for a neighbour, and seeking advice and help if necessary.
I am sure that by working together, being sensible and looking out for one another we can vastly reduce the impact of the virus on society. It is important to remember that most people who contract the virus will experience only mild symptoms.
Government advice is subject to change but the latest information is available on the gov.uk website. The Victim Care Unit can be contacted on 01392 475900 from 8am to 8pm on Monday to Friday and 9am to 5pm at the weekend. Information on the practical and emotional support on offer is available at victimcaredevonandcornwall.org.uk.
If you need to report a crime 101 webchat or the online crime reporting form via the force website devon-cornwall.police.uk you might save time and free up the telephone lines for those who cannot use the internet. There’s also a useful AskNed system that provides online advice on a range of issues and if you sign up to Neighbourhood Alert you will receive regular updates and information from my office or the police. This can be done via my website devonandcornwall-pcc.gov.uk.