COVID-19: Police embrace need to adapt

Woman standing in front of police car
Detective Jessica Johnston

Jessica Johnston completed her Bachelor of Laws at Southern Cross University in 2016. She is now a Detective with Victoria Police. She explains that, as with all industries, COVID-19 has caused the police force to adapt and pivot.

“Essential services cannot shut down, they must keep serving the community,” said Ms Johnston.

“The police force has had to increase safety measures just like any other profession.”

Victoria Police have, for example, introduced:

  • More thorough screening of 000 calls seeking assistance in order to identify COVID-19 contact or symptoms, therefore allowing members to facilitate an increase in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) utilisation.
  • Working at the highest level of threat and downgrading as appropriate.
  • Internal measures, like split shifts, to minimise the numbers in the office but still ensure the availability of service delivery to the community.
  • Compulsory masks in workplaces and maintaining of the 1.5m distance rule.
  • Increased self-hygiene management, which is not just limited to the use of hand sanitizers after each public contact, but the wiping down of all surfaces regularly.

The Victorian State Government has had to suspend jury trials and bail reporting, to decrease unnecessary social contact in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus. Unprecedented Stage 4 restrictions have also been implemented which includes a curfew, one hour capped time frames on exercise, restricted 5km radius zoning and the temporary closure of non-essential businesses in an attempt to bring down the infection rates in metropolitan Melbourne.  

“We have seen the establishment of Task Force SENTINAL that is a dedicated response unit tasked with ensuring compliance with COVID-19 restrictions, the adherence to mandatory isolation requirements and ensuring the community is adhering to the Stage 3 and 4 Victorian imposed restrictions,” said Ms Johnston.

This task force has approximately 500 members across the State of Victoria, which has been reinforced with members of the Australian Defence Force. 

“It has been established to ensure compliance and to get the State back on track as soon as we can. Compliance = flattening the curve = reduction in restrictions,” she said.

One of the key lessons Ms Johnston has learnt from COVID-19 revolves around the “variance of PPE use (masks and gloves)".

“In the initial onset of COVID, statistics were showing that masks were only good if you have symptoms to prevent the further spread. The Victorian Chief Health Officer has revised this initial advice making it mandatory for a face covering to be worn by Victorians when out for one of the four exemptions. This is to further protect those in our community and limit the progression of the virus to drive down community transmission in an attempt to drive down the infection rate amongst Victorians”.

“Unless you are regularly changing your gloves after coming into contact with an object or surface, you could be doing more harm than good.” 

She advocates using common sense.

“Cover your mouth when you cough, dispose of tissues in a bin straight after use, wash your hands after sneezing, blowing your nose or coughing. Dispose of your disposal masks after four hours and frequently wash reusable face coverings.”

“There is frustration starting to creep in with being isolated away at home and we understand that. Although we cannot physically catch up with each other, keep in touch with family and friends by picking up the phone to check in on each other. Hang-in there, we are seeing the results. The more we adhere to the restrictions, the quicker the restrictions will be lifted.”

She also recommends using this time to take advantage of study opportunities.

“Students have a great advantage of being able to study at home through remote learning and SCU offers a fantastic service in this respect. Lectures are loaded, all study materials available, just missing the one-to-one tutorials. Use your fellow students to bounce off. It’s a great way to learn and further develop.”