Chair: Martin Gill

Panellists:

  • Michel de Jong (Netherlands)
  • Rajiv Mathur (India)
  • Elizabeth Sheldon (UK)
  • Roger Warwick (Italy)

Lessons learnt

Comparing the impact of Covid-19 across countries is problematic, we know that is true for health issues but it also applies to security. On the one hand the virus is at a different stage in different countries, advanced in Italy for example, and just beginning to have an impact in India. Then there are issues posed by different cultures, laws and customs which have different implications for security. Countries already have different crime problems and the ways criminals are likely to adapt will be different. From all this at least four key issues are emerging.

The first relates to crime itself *. Despite differences, what countries share is a criminal element ready to adapt. While some offences are predictable: violence by family members on each other (women and children especially vulnerable), burglaries on unoccupied business premises, the supply of counterfeit medical equipment, frauds exploiting (vulnerable) people’s concerns about the virus, to name but a few; many new forms are likely to evolve. In some areas the illicit economy is rife, many offenders live off crime, what will those involved do now that in many cases their opportunities have been closed?  We can and need to learn by close and careful monitoring on a country by country basis.

The second issue is that while the state of security is not the same in each country it remains true that in each country security has a new opportunity. It can begin to highlight barriers to successful working and show how overcoming them can lead to better provision. The difficulty for private security in engaging with public forms of the same remains prominent, overcoming this would lay the foundation for new types of cooperation and support; we are not there yet it seems.

The third issue is that in a time of crisis security can highlight how well it is performing **. For example, in protecting businesses so they can operate effectively (let alone survive at all) such as providing security in retail outlets; in being a focal point for advice in corporate security; in operating effective business continuity plans and so much more. Security needs to show it is being effective. There is scope for the security sector, or key elements within it to cooperate, that also appears rare as yet.

This overlaps the fourth point in that communication is key. It always has been. Security is suffering because Governments have been unclear how the security sector can help, and the sector itself has not put forward a case. The security sector needs to lead by example, communicating what it is doing and what it can do. It needs to develop a voice. The media is looking for news, therein rests an opportunity.

* Note forthcoming webinar: What are the most recent crime trends and what are the implications for security? 9 April 20

** Note forthcoming webinar: Is security delivering (or failing) in this crisis? 2 April 20

Key points

Roger Warwick outlined the situation in Italy. The country has been one of the first to face the problems posed by Covid-19, and at this time, has faced the steepest problems. Unsurprisingly then there have been mistakes, and this has been the context in which security has been operating.

What we do know as security people is that in a crisis communication is key, the right messages at the right time for the right audiences. This has been wanting in Italy where there has been a tendency from officials to want to please the public and as a consequence have been too optimistic.

The lockdown to-date has been largely accepted by the public, albeit that support may wane if they are led to believe it will last less than is likely and become disenchanted – underlying the importance about communicating effectively and with an eye on the long term and real consequences.

The law in Italy has not helped security given that those with a guarding licence must carry a gun and therefore are not deployed in store, a separate licence is needed for this. Perhaps the pandemic will generate new thinking in this regard?  Although home burglaries are down, corporate burglaries may increase as properties are left under protected; in some countries this is in evidence.

The Government is making funding available, but the monies are only just beginning to arrive, late for some which is causing unease. Parts of the economy in Italy operates on the black economy and so it is unlikely those involved will be able to prove earnings, what will they do?

Elizabeth Sheldon presented a more positive perspective on the situation in the UK. A strong positive Government reaction early on largely had the support of the public, and for that matter most political parties. The strong investment to protect jobs has, she argued, alleviated most people’s immediate concerns about surviving in an adverse economic climate. The lock down has been largely uncontroversial, at least for now.

That said, Elizabeth raised the concerns about domestic violence, offences against children, alcohol related crime, cyber crime, and noted that already fines were being issued. On the positive side, Elizabeth pointed to the UK’s well practised crises management/emergency planning that, for the time being, will hold the country in good stead.

This theme was picked up by Michel de Jong who was also positive in his case about how the Dutch have responded so far. He noted there were three possible approaches: to all allow Covid-19 to run its course unchecked but that would overrun systems; to instigate maximum containment, full lockdown, which while initially attractive is challenging to maintain; or seek to control the virus such that it is not able to spread quickly providing an opportunity to build immunity, protecting health services.

Michel outlined potential dangers that need to be monitored, including social unrest; increasing stress as people worry about heath; the spread of the virus in developing countries and its impact on health services, society and of course the economy; the dangers of rioting and looting; and the dangers posed by vacant businesses.

Rajiv Marthur noted that India is behind other countries in facing Covid-19, there has been limited testing. That said the country is now in lockdown. He noted especially that most businesses were small/medium enterprises, and they were struggling. The consequences have been largely felt by many migrant workers engaged in tasks such as drivers, or working in retailing, events and even guarding. He noted that corporations were cutting back on guarding, another example of the impact only just beginning to be felt. Different issues for people emerge from having both a lot of people and a diverse range of religions and it will be important to recognise these in the ways news is communicated. Therein lies the issue, the problems are significant but they are only just emerging, time will tell.