Hundreds of PSNI officers are due to gather together for an exam this weekend – 24 hours after Northern Ireland goes into a strict lockdown.
ough new measures come into force on Friday to try and reduce the spread of Covid-19 and stop the collapse of the health service.
Non-essential retailers must close, the hospitality sector cannot reopen and close contact services must also shut for two weeks in a crushing blow for the business community.
The controversial move has been deemed essential by the Executive to reduce contact between people and help to save lives.
Despite this, PSNI chiefs have decided it is safe to proceed with promotional exams at Garnerville training college where officers from all over Northern Ireland will congregate on Saturday.
Earlier this month a deep clean of Garnerville was required due to a Covid-19 outbreak among student officers.
However, the deep clean was only carried out after hundreds of officers sat promotional exams for the rank of inspector at the facility on November 7.
The exams went ahead hours after a student officer tested positive for the virus.
Speaking ahead of this weekend’s exams, assistant chief constable Alan Todd said it is within current guidelines and a range of mitigating factors, including social distancing, will be in place.
However, one officer due to sit the exam this week said: “It’s madness, they were warned last time of the dangers of bringing so many officers together in one place but they went ahead anyway and then we found out about the outbreak in the news.
“I don’t see how we can be asked to enforce the lockdown and then have so many officers together at once.
“Yes, there is social distancing inside the exam, of course there is, but what about beforehand and afterwards?
“I’ve spoken to people who were there the last time and social distancing was certainly not being adhered to by everyone.”
At the same time, Harp & Crown – the credit union for retired and serving police officers, has postponed its annual general meeting due to the lockdown.
The board of directors said the decision was made as it was no longer possible to hire the venue required for the meeting, scheduled for December 8.
“This has proved impossible to facilitate within current Government guidelines,” an announcement from Harp & Crown said.
It is understood the PSNI is the only force in the UK where officers must attend for exams.
The College of Policing recommended in March that all police assessment centre activity should be postponed and that it was working to implement online solutions to enable recruitment processes to continue.
In response to the concerns, ACC Todd explained: “Scheduled promotion processes are due to take place this weekend.
“It is important to emphasise that the safety of our people is foremost in any decisions we make on policing matters. Keeping people safe applies to our officers and staff, just as it does to the wider public. In accordance with this the process has been fully risk-assessed and robust procedures put in place to mitigate against possible exposure to or spread of the virus in line with public health guidance.
“Examination centres by their nature are highly regulated environments and we have stringent prevention measures in place to including rigorous approaches to ventilation, sanitation, entry and exit routes along with social distancing measures to mitigate any additional risk.
“We have also been consulting, on an ongoing basis, with our people and their staff associations in relation to the matter.”