A POLICE chief has praised the courage of officers during the coronavirus pandemic, some of whom have been spat at in the line of duty.

Chief inspector Gareth Morgan of West Mercia Police has spoken of his 'pride' in the officers who risk their lives to keep the streets of Worcester safe during the crisis, calling it a 'sad fact' that some have been assaulted during the pandemic.

The officer extended his thanks to the majority of the public for abiding by the terms of the lockdown in a situation which he described as 'new', 'ever-changing' and 'unprecedented'.

He now says the key is people taking 'personal responsibility' to 'protect the NHS and save lives' as the lockdown rules are relaxed.

Although the majority of people have kept to the rules, West Mercia Police has handed out 150 fines so far according to the most recent data. However, these fixed penalty notices are only imposed upon those who are 'persistent and refuse to take account of the guidance' with officers using their discretion before they are issued.

Most people who have been spoken to have been described as 'understanding and usually apologetic,' said chief inspector Morgan.

Officers have, where possible, travelled in separate vehicles to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Teleconferencing facilities have been used to allow shielding for anyone in the high risk category within the force. Chief inspector Morgan said officers had access to a 'great welfare support team' and that quick and regular coronavirus testing had been provided.

"Their emotional and physical wellbeing is at the forefront of my mind," said chief inspector Morgan.

During the pandemic West Mercia Police has seen a decrease in the majority of crime types and, where anti-social behaviour has increased, this has been met with targeted patrols.

The force has experienced a 2 per cent increase in domestic abuse related incidents. This figure has been arrived at by comparing the four weeks up to May 10 this year with the same period the previous year.

Chief inspector Morgan said: “Sadly not every home is a safe place and there has been a slight increase in incidents relating to domestic abuse, which is replicated across the country. We’re really eager to let people know that we are still here. If you do not feel safe in your home please contact us and we will do everything we can to support you.”

Police have also seen an increase in bicycle thefts by 'opportunist thieves', often where pedal cycles have not been secured.

Chief inspector Mogran said: "The approach from our local policing commander Superintendent Brighton to all Covid-19 powers is for officers to engage, explain, encourage the public and only enforce as a last resort. Adapting to new guidance and legislation is challenging but we must remember that Covid-19 continues to be a developing situation, and we will regularly adapt our policing practices to suit the most up to date information.

"All officers and staff have access to PPE. This is being driven by dedicated local Bronze cells that daily review PPE levels across the policing area to ensure that adequate supplies are at the stations. Officers will wear PPE following a dynamic risk assessment of any incident they attend. This is balanced against information known and if officers are able to distance themselves from the public during their enquires.

"It is a sad fact that officers and other emergency service workers across the country are assaulted. We take a robust stance on this and ensure that offenders are charged and put before the courts.

"I would like to acknowledge the fantastic work of colleagues in the NHS, care homes and emergency services. It is not lost on us their continued hard work and dedication to public service."

We reported how a custody sergeant at Worcester Police Station in Castle Street was spat on in March by someone claiming to have coronavirus. At the time chief superintendent Tom Harding said he was 'disgusted by the attack' while West Mercia's police and crime commissioner, John Campion, said: "Assaults of any kind against police officers should never be tolerated, and reports of coronavirus related attacks on frontline emergency services staff are particularly worrying."

No data regarding the number of coronavirus attacks upon West Mercia Police officers have yet been made public. Chief superintendent Morgan wished to make a final plea to the public as the UK continues to tackle a pandemic which has already claimed 41,200 lives in England and Wales between December 28 and May 15 (ONS figures).

He added: "Personal responsibility is now key. Those that leave their homes as a result of the changes should think carefully about where they are going and how they will be able to keep their distance from others.

"We must all keep in mind the purpose of the regulations and the national effort to protect the NHS and save lives."