A police officer used to patrolling Aberdeen city centre keeping revellers safe on a Friday and Saturday night has told how his job has changed drastically since lockdown.
Sergeant Geoff Catto, part of the Response team at Queen Street, saw his role change hugely in the weeks since the coronavirus-enforced lockdown began, forcing shops, pubs and nightclubs to shut their doors.
The 48-year-old, who lives in the city with his wife and two daughters, 18 and 14, described a “slower pace” compared to what he is used to.
He said: “I work in the city centre in Rosemount Community Policing Team so in relation to even the daytime economy and nighttime economy you’ve got the shops during the day and then you’ve got the pubs and clubs at night.
“Most of them are closed for the time being so there’s hardly any footfall through the city centre at all.
“The officers have had to adapt to a different style of policing and different area to concentrate on.
“Instead of patrolling the pubs and the clubs at night as they would to prevent any trouble, they’ll be checking round premises making sure they’re not vulnerable to attack from thieves, checking round residential properties, garages, etc, because I think what we’ve found, especially during the night, is there’s more acquisitive crime happening.
“People out to take advantage of the situation.
“It’s been different, possibly a slower pace than what it’s been.
“We’re used to working in a busy environment in the city centre.
“It’s a change of pace but we’re adapting well and just getting on with it really.”
Sgt Catto said working during the pandemic and lockdown had been challenging due to the rapidly evolving situation and changing guidance, but that he and his colleagues were adapting and “getting on with it”.
He said: “There’s quite often a lot of questions, what do we do in this situation and that situation.
“There is a bit of apprehension sometimes, especially if you’re going into situations where you’ve got suspected cases of coronavirus.
“They are adapting and getting on with it and remaining professional.
“The past few months have been difficult but they’re getting through it and keeping their spirits up.”
With most workplaces implementing social distancing, Sgt Catto described how the police were adapting to the situation to keep themselves and other safe.
He said: “If we’re dealing with the public, our jobs will come in through a phonecall to the control room. There’s an assessment made by the control room if we can attend or not.
“They ask the questions on the phonecall, are they showing any symptoms or do they have coronavirus, etc.
“They make a risk assessment if it’s okay for us to attend a call.
“Some of the calls can be dealt with by phone call if it’s a non-urgent enquiry, if it’s just something we can phone them about. That will save us going to the address as well.
“Some of the calls are being dealt with over the phone and we can carry out inquiries thereafter via CCTV or other means.
“But we do still have to attend a lot of calls face-to-face. If we have to go to somebody’s door we’ll try and keep that distance when we’re speaking to people.
“But then there’s obviously the more urgent situations when there’s maybe a disturbance ongoing and we have to get hands on people.
“We’ve got the PPE and we’ve all been trained on that now.
“It just depends on the situation what level of PPE they will need to wear.
“That’s in relation to dealing with the public but we’ve got our own guidance for each other when we’re dealing with each other in the office.
“We’re not allowed to go around and visit other station unnecessarily.
“Maybe we’d pop around and see our colleagues for a coffee and a chat and speak about things but at the moment we’re just keeping our distance, sticking to our own stations.
“We’re moving the furniture around in the office to try and keep that distance between each other.
“There are times it’s unavoidable if they’re crewing a van or a car together.”
But if someone calls the police and they do have the virus, officers are still able to help.
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Sgt Catto, who has been a full time police officer for 11 years and a special constable for five, said: “We’ve had people phoning in and answered the question ‘yes, I’ve got coronavirus’. If we can deal with it over the phone we will, if we can take a complaint from them over the phone about a crime that’s happened, we will do it over the phone and once their symptoms are away or it’s safer to speak to them we can then go and visit them and note a proper statement.
“There are other instances where we’ve had to go up to the hospital say to assist with a disturbance and that will be full PPE initially, we will have to go into the hospital with full PPE on.
“We have got set guidance for different situations.
“It can be as little as gloves. We’ve now got the fitted mask, the goggles, the full paper suit and the boots as well.”
Sgt Catto, who also has two pet dogs, Cocker Spaniels, admitted knowing when to use the PPE was one of the bigger challenges he has had to overcome in the current situation.
He said: “That’s probably part of it, the PPE, when to wear it, when not to wear it, especially if we’re going into the unknown.
“Sometimes we’ll get a call and we don’t know if anybody will be showing symptoms.
“I think that’s the biggest hurdle we’ve had to overcome, trying to decide if we need PPE to go to this address.
“There’s sometimes not enough time to get fully kitted up in the PPE.”
Part of officers’ role is also to keep order and ensure people are following the government’s guidance in relation to the virus.
Sgt Catto said: “The majority of people are certainly adhering to the guidelines.
“In my life I’ve never seen the city centre like that.
“You will see a few cars going about, a few people going to the shops, but it’s got to be a very high percentage of the public are adhering to the guidelines.
“There are the few occasions we’ll get reports of a wee houseparty ongoing, maybe a group of people in a park or a group of kids playing football.
“The majority of people, we’ll go along, have a chat, give them a bit of advice and encouragement and they’ll go home without any fuss.
“In relation to having to enforce the guidelines with fines or taking people home, it’s only very few occasions that’s had to be done.
“It’s different and we’ve had to adapt, but it is also very important that we look out for the public.
“It’s not like we’re trying to come across as enforcement saying ‘you must do this’, we’re not stopping cars, or stopping people saying ‘what are you doing, where are you going?’.
“It’s more about encouraging people to adhere to the guidelines.
“We need the public’s backing with this. The majority of people are happy with the way we are policing and dealing with this.
“We get a lot of phonecalls from the public who are worried about people breaching the guidelines.
“Quite often we’ll go to some of these calls where people have concerns about individuals or families breaching the guidelines, we’ll go there and there is actually a reasonable explanation or they’re not actually breaching the guidelines.
“People are just looking for reassurance that we are trying to enforce them.”
Sgt Catto added he was proud to be playing his part as a key worker in combating the pandemic and its impact on society.
He said: “Everybody is proud to play their part.
“People like the NHS, they’re doing an absolutely brilliant job.
“Anything we can do to help them, trying to get people to stay indoors so they’re not getting into trouble and they’re not committing crimes and ending up in hospital themselves.
“Anything we can do to try and help the situation.
“Everybody is always proud to be a police officer and trying to help the public and keep people safe. This is just an addition to our normal role.
“And we are still doing our normal role as well.
“People are still reporting crime, they are coming across suspicious people, things are getting stolen, people are getting involved in disturbances, fights, domestics, etc.
“We’re trying to reassure people we are still here, we are still dealing with crime, they can still phone us, it’s business as normal for us.”
Asked if he thought less crime was being committed in lockdown compared to normal, Sgt Catto said: “I would say so, definitely. The area we police with all the business premises in the city centre and residential premises in Rosemount, there’s definitely less crime being reported because of all the business premises being closed.
“But it’s maybe other types of calls we’re getting, people worried about people breaching the government guidelines, etc.
“Different kinds of things being reported. There’s maybe an increase in acquisitive crime during the night time.
“We’re obviously managing to do a bit more patrols during the night time due to there being no nightclubs or pubs open so these people are getting caught, these people that are out thinking it’s going to be an easy steal.
“I think they forget we don’t have the pubs and clubs open so we are available to go and try and trace these people. So we’ve been quite successful in getting a few of these housebreakers locked up.”
Outside of work, Sgt Catto admitted it was frustrating not being able to have days out or go to events, but said he was happy at home with his family and dogs.
He said: “I think we’d all like to get out and go on a wee trip somewhere or go and see a concert, etc. There are things I think we all miss.
“But personally myself, I’ve got the family at home, I’ve got the wife and my two children and we’ve got the two dogs as well so just making sure we go out as a family for our exercise with the dogs.
“I’ve been getting my DIY work done. My wife’s got a list of things for me to do just now.
“I think like everybody else I’m just adapting to the situation and trying to make the most of it.
“You do miss family, friends, etc, that you would like to see but we’ve been doing online quizzes and things like that with the family in the evenings.
“After work I’ll get showered and get myself cleaned first, when I’m on the day shift I go home, have a bite to eat and then go out with the dogs.
“And maybe just sit in the evening, maybe do a quiz, play a game, watch a movie, or I’ve got a few hobbies, play the keyboard, or maybe my daughter might want me to play Call of Duty on the Xbox or something.”