SPECIAL REPORT: As most of the country crouched under the COVID-19 lockdown, the Royal New Zealand Police College remained calm and continued – but as usual, it did not. Some of those involved spoke to the Senior Communications Advisor Emma Inwood about that.
From the moment the Prime Minister uttered the words ‘containment’ and ‘alert level 4’ on August 17, a team from the Royal New Zealand Police College (RNZPC) took action to determine how to continue training recruits during a lockdown.
With the health and well-being of recruits and training staff paramount, the Safer People group medical team was a critical part of the response which saw bubbles in a bubble across the RNZPC, port masks and other measures put in place.
Director of Medical Services Andrea Adams talks to us about the health response.
“The first part was trying to capture all the elements of risk, like who had been in Auckland the previous weekend, looking to see if we had exposure somewhere and what kind of exposure.
“Very quickly, we implemented very good hygiene measures. We had a number of sick recruits – showing cold symptoms – so we had to isolate them until we could do COVID swabs.
“My nursing team swabbed a lot of people that first week.
“Anyone who had been to Auckland had to check and recheck places of interest… had to keep rechecking those locations.
“The recruits were all excellent at having their surveillance swabs (all negative), which gave us the assurance very quickly that we did not have COVID on site. “
Some recruits discovered they had been in a place of interest and were directly quarantined, confined to their barracks rooms. The nursing team then took on the role of district nurses, keeping an eye on the health and well-being of recruits – and even delivering meals to them – always wearing full protective gear.
“The nurses all wore full PPE and scrubs whenever they were in the college bubble. It’s because we were going into the bubble and going back to our original bubbles, so we had to protect our own people at home, ”says Andrea.
When the recruits came out of quarantine, many people breathed a sigh of relief that the main element of risk to the recruit population had disappeared.
Bubbles and social distancing have become important parts of the health response. Photo: Senior Agent Mark Chivers.
Bubbles have been a big part of the answer.
“We created a university bubble and we went to great lengths to protect it,” says Andrea.
A strict methodology for the College bubble and smaller bubbles has been put in place. First, the main bubble was reduced by sending home anyone who was not essential to the recruit training effort, including those taking other courses.
Each of the four squadrons – of 40 or 60 recruits – that had been at the College since the Alert Level 4 announcement was a bubble, with each wing comprising smaller bubbles of 20 recruits.
The bubbles focused on decreasing touchpoints – for example, each section bubble had its own classroom where they always sat in the same place, alphabetically by last name, and they had a similar seating plan for meals, all to help with contact tracing if needed.
Wearing a mask has become the rule everywhere on campus. Exercising on campus, moving around campus and in a classroom, wearing a mask was mandatory for another layer of protection.
Vaccinations against COVID-19 were also offered on site, with 158 of the bubble vaccinated in one day, which represents a strong participation of those who had not already been vaccinated.
“During the last confinement, we did not continue to train, so it was a very different experience from Alert Level 4 for us,” says Andrea.
With the move to Alert Level 3, all of the bubble protection and mask-wearing protocols remained the same, but some of the training measures began to look more like normal.
Recruits in action. At Alert Level 4, only one recruit and one coach were allowed to get into a car; at alert level 3, this increased to two recruits and a trainer. Photo: Senior Agent Mark Chivers.
Master Sgt.Rebecca Lockwood, Initial Training Program Manager, gives us an overview of how training got through the lockdown.
Even those isolated in the barracks continued their training as much as possible, she said.
“They enrolled online where they could – they couldn’t do the practical elements but they could do knowledge-based learning.
“All of the external session presenters who would normally present in person also presented online.
“The way we worked with knowledge-based training seemed quite different. Even when we were doing a whole wing session, the sections were in three different locations on campus but were seeing the same material. “
At Alert Level 4, firearms and driver training continued, but with reduced numbers.
At the gun stand, the number of recruits increased from 20 to 10 to maintain social distancing, and in the cars there was one recruit for a trainer, compared to two usual recruits. At Alert Level 3, numbers have returned to normal, with a reduced risk of having been in the bubble for 14 days.
New employees joined the initial training team the week we entered Alert Level 4, says Rebecca.
“They came and didn’t even know what our normal program looked like.
“Teamwork has been a real goal here, with everyone’s help. “
With Wing 345 having completed its formation during the lockdown, one challenge was organizing their trips, such as seeing which ferries and flights were available to take them home.
The exemption process had to be worked out so that wing members could cross borders – each person was to have a letter with them containing the details of the exemption.
“One of the Wing 345s was arrested by the police,” explains Rebecca.
“Before leaving campus, drivers got a big talk about minimum stops on the way home. This particular member of the 345 Wing stopped at a gas station to use the washroom, and the attendant called the police, believing that there had been a travel violation contrary to the health ordinance.
“So this brand new constable had a home visit from other constables later that day, but it was fine – it was all legitimate!”
“It just shows that the community worked with the police in the process.”
The certification was different from the normal for the 345 wing.
Meanwhile, all 80 recruits to 349 Wing – many from the Auckland area – began their home training on September 6.
“We prepared them to go home for about four to eight weeks, where they cover all of their knowledge topics for their basic policing skills,” says Rebecca.
“This means that we had to rethink our program, so we are addressing all of our policy, legislation and practice areas of our course, and when they can come to the College campus we will explain all the practical technical components to them. from the program.
A lot of support is made available to new recruits, with regular one-on-one talks with their sergeants particularly important to understanding their needs and what additional support can be provided throughout this period of home learning.
“One thing we definitely learned from the last time was to make our online program as flexible as possible, to make the material available to them so that, when it is convenient for them, they can read or watch a video, but also to make the material available to them. ‘Have set times so they can come in for tutorials and ask questions,’ says Rebecca.
“But we also recognize that if they can’t be there for the tutorials – if they need to help a child with homework or prepare meals for example – the tutorial is recorded so they can watch it more. late, and the forum where they can ask questions remains open so that they are not disadvantaged by a busy family life.
Another lesson learned from the last time was about their fitness, so the online training has a built-in physical component and they will have access to a range of trainers to support that aspect.
“We want the recruits to come to us in the best shape possible to avoid injury so that we can send them to their districts on time,” says Rebecca.
“It’s nice that we were able to continue training during the lockdown – where we could do things safely – because it meant the rookies could always see their goal was on track.”
A home learning session for Wing 349 with Inspector Marc Hercock, Head of Initial Training, speaking to an empty room in the RNZPC.
Acting General Manager Training Inspector Dean Clifford was impressed by the determination to continue the training safely that he saw from trainers, recruits and others involved.
“It’s real teamwork,” he says.
“We all got over that with really good communication, working on issues and making sure everyone was on the same page.
“Recruits who followed hygiene rules and helped deliver contactless meals to their isolated colleagues in the barracks, catering and facility staff who made sure the food arrived and the campus was functioning – they should all take great pride in their work during a troubling time. time.
“The healthcare professionals and trainers have been at the heart of this training effort and have done an incredible job, and I also want to thank those who supported the training while working from home.
“We have done our best to respond and continue the critical work of training the new front line. “