Factsheets have been distributed but police in the ACT and across federal operations are waiting on urgent advice where officers are potentially highly exposed to COVID-19 and may inadvertently pass it on to their colleagues.
An emergency teleconference this week involving key police union leaders across states and territories raised a number of unresolved issues and which left unaddressed, could significantly erode the capability of police to respond to major incidents.
Federal police association president Angela Smith said that she had had many discussions with her operational members around the need for new protocols and guidelines in key areas such as cleaning vehicles and rooms after contamination, hygiene and protection when arresting a person sick with the virus, workplace incident reporting and under what circumstances officers should wear appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE) such as face masks and rubber gloves.
Uniformed police officers in Canberra have not been directed to wear facemasks when patrolling in public, even though many of the people with whom they are interacting with are wearing masks.
Some members are concerned about their level of exposure without protection and how this could also impact on their colleagues with whom they share cars, offices and interview rooms on a daily basis.
All police attendance at community events has been cancelled but ACT Chief Police Officer Ray Johnson maintained that it was business as usual with measures in place "to protect our members and the community".
"Police officers can't just work from home," CPO Johnson said.
"They still need to be in police stations, and patrolling the streets to provide support and to reassure the community. That is our job and we're committed to it."
ACT police has also suspended community bookings for fingerprinting services and Constable Kenny Koala lessons in schools due to the virus.
One of the key areas of concern privately expressed by members is the watch-house where people are taken and held after arrest, generally before attending court.
In Canberra, the ACT Watch-house is an underground complex of cells under the City Police Station.
It is staffed by a full team of sworn officers whose role is to make an assessment of each person as they arrive, take an inventory of the person's personal belongings and hold them in safe-keeping, remove items of clothing which could be used as weapons or for self-injury, and then hold that person until released or put before the court.
On a busy Friday night, the ACT Watch-house could hold as many as a dozen people or more. Officers wear rubber gloves and can fit spit masks to people under arrest if it is required. When arrested, people may punch, spit, bite and claw at officers.
ACT police say it has assessed the Watch-house risks and "has a number of strategies to ensure the protection and safety of its officers".
Exposure to blood-borne diseases from an arrest is an everyday risk for police officers and the highly infectious nature of COVID-19, which can infect someone through sneezes or airborne droplets, ramps that concern up even further.
At the watch-house, people locked up in the calls have to be fed, medicated if and when necessary, and sometimes physically assisted or restrained, all of which potentially exposes officers to close contact and the coronavirus.
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Ms Smith said that the AFP was attempting to "get ahead of the issue" and keep its members safe and healthy.
ACT Policing is a contracted service and part of the federal police. It relies on the federal operation to make decisions around everyday operational equipment, such as guns and protective vests, and safety equipment such as face masks.
ACT members who don't wish to be identified say the bureaucracy-heavy AFP has moved slowly on prior requests for urgent operational equipment, which is a problem for community police officers on day-to-day public duty.
It is understood that the federal police has ordered $300,000 worth of face masks for all its frontline officers, although these have not yet reached all officers.
Two days ago when NSW police suspended all random breath-testing, ACT police said that it would continue to do tests, despite the operational issues this presents as drivers' saliva sprays onto the handheld screening devices.
Each time after an officer uses a roadside alcohol screening device, it has to be cleaned using a sanitiser. Previous sanitisers were alcohol-based, which affected the reading for the next roadside test but these have been replaced with a non-alcohol cleaning product.
A further issue for police is ACT Operations, which takes the emergency and non-emergency calls, runs the police radio channels and dispatches members to tasks. Operations members are skilled at their specific role, work in a secure call centre environment using an encrypted radio network, and many are unsworn.
Chief police officer Johnson said the police workforce was flexible in the wake of the virus.
"Day-to-day policing services- where our priority is on the safety and security of our community - will continue," he said.
"We have made some changes to our processes behind the scenes, such as meetings and briefings, and temporarily reduced or suspended some services for everyone's safety."
ACT Operations, based at the Winchester Police Centre in Belconnen, has been rejigged so that all staff are not fully exposed on each shift.
"Communications Operations team has already split its capability across two worksites to continue 24/7 support," police said.
However, if a whole experienced Operations team was "lost" from their roles on 14-day self-isolation, sworn members would need to be taken away from other front-line duties to fill in.
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