Writing exclusively for The Northern Echo, Durham Constabulary’s Chief Constable Jo Farrell speaks of the unique challenges of policing during the present Coronavirus crisis.

IT has been almost 29 years since I first joined the police and I can honestly say that I have never been prouder to wear the uniform.

Day after day I have spoken to police officers and staff across County Durham and Darlington, and have been struck by the way in which, despite the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in, they are simply getting on with the job they do best: preventing crime, catching criminals and keeping our communities safe.

As the public would expect, we prepare and we build contingencies for all eventualities so that when the time comes we are rehearsed and ready.

But for all the preparation, until the day comes when you are tested for real you cannot be truly certain whether you will rise to the test. I am pleased to say that Durham Constabulary has done just that.

It has been far from easy – our officers and staff are just as susceptible to Covid-19 as everyone else. We currently have a higher level than normal of our workforce unable to perform their duties due to the virus.

We have had to reshuffle our resources and learn some new ways of doing things. We’ve had to cancel some things we would prefer to do, such as attending community meetings and taking part in training. However, we have managed to retain the same number of officers on the streets. You can remain absolutely confident that if you call 999 we’ll still send help to your door, day or night.

Virus or no virus, we will always be there when the public need us.

The last few weeks have proven something I have always deeply believed: that policing is really good in a crisis: we learn, we adapt and we carry on.

Our officers get it. They understand the mission and they put doing their professional best before every other consideration, including their own personal safety.

And, regardless of the risk, there are still things which still have to be done in the traditional way. You can’t chase a burglar or detain a drunk person with a knife while maintaining your social distancing.

It has undoubtedly been an unprecedented challenge and, sadly, there seems to be no question that things are going to get worse before they get better.

But what makes it possible to rise to that challenge is not only the resilience shown by our officers and staff but also the incredible support we have received from the public.

Last week, I received through the post a selection of hand-drawn cards from children at Chester-le-Street CofE Primary School, thanking our officers and staff for the work they do. We’ve had coffees and cakes left for our officers on patrol and messages of support as they go about their work.

It makes a real difference. This morning I spoke to an officer who said it was noticeable how many more people stopped to chat – from a distance of two metres – and offered encouragement as he walked the streets.

The people of County Durham have a long tradition of looking out for each other in tough times and the response of our communities has been superb.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people of County Durham and Darlington who have, in overwhelming numbers, chosen to do the right thing.

The vast majority have listened to the warnings and are helping fight the virus by staying at home, avoiding unnecessary travel and not gathering in groups. We have had a handful of minor instances over the last week in which officers have had to go and reiterate that message, but very few and, so far, we have not had to issue any fines to anyone flouting the rules.

Overall crime is down and the overall number of incidents we have responded to has also fallen over the last few weeks.

Last Thursday, I stood on the doorstep of my home with my family beside me and applauded our colleagues in the NHS who are putting themselves at risk to stem the tide of the virus. Beforehand, to be honest, I wasn’t sure how many people would support the gesture, but my family wanted to stand up and be counted. One by one, the doorways of every house in my street filled and the applause echoed into the night in an incredibly moving display of support for our health service workers.

It was an emotional moment which demonstrated the public’s support for those in the frontline of the fight against Coronavirus: a moment when we all stood shoulder to shoulder in defiance of the disease.

We are all in this together – please stay safe and stay at home.