Covid marshals to be replaced with Public Protection and Neighbourhood Officers

Joe Molander on yesterday's announcement from the Students’ Union

Joe Molander
23rd January 2021
Image: Patrick Elliott on Twitter
Covid marshals are to be replaced with a new type of enforcement agent known as Public Protection and Neighbourhood Officers (PPNOs). PPNOs will be deployed to provide additional patrols if complaints over lockdown restrictions being breached increase, but will not be allowed to enter people’s homes.

PPNOs will also investigate reports of noise and anti-social behaviour, but only if lockdown breach complaints rise. According to an announcement from the Newcastle University Students’ Union (NUSU) released yesterday, “If all residents remain within Covid [sic] restrictions, there would be no need for the deployment of PPNOs.”

PPNOs are to be equipped with body cameras and “bespoke Council uniforms” to differentiate them from Northumbria Police. According to documents seen by The Courier, Newcastle City Council are concerned that students had difficulty in telling covid marshals and Northumbria Police officers apart.

Christina Herriot, the council’s director of operations and regulatory services said: “we know there has been some confusion and concerns around their role.

“We have listened and worked with police and representatives of both the universities and their student bodies to offer an alternative solution, which we hope will engender more positive relations and assist with community cohesion.”

Northumbria Police currently have funding to patrol student areas every night of the week, following the expansion of Operation Oak this year.

PPNOs will have similar responsibilities to covid marshals, but will be hired directly by Newcastle City Council. Covid marshals, on the other hand, were provided between fresher’s week and 19 December 2020 by Phoenix Security, who the Council used as a private contractor.

The NUSU announcement reads “Although our hopes of any extra patrols in student areas coming to an end have not been fully met we are happy to see that this system is fairer and will only be launched if there is a need.”

“We will, of course, be monitoring student feedback going forward to continue to hear your views.”

After first being deployed, covid marshals quickly became the subject of controversy.

The Tab reported on allegations of students being harassed by covid marshals in November. Meanwhile, a survey conducted by The Courier in November and December found that a third of students overall had had an uncomfortable interaction with a covid marshal.

When limited solely to students who had interacted with a covid marshal, three quarters reported the interaction was uncomfortable.

Speaking to The Courier at the time, Newcastle City Council insisted that “We aim to maintain the highest standards when interacting with the public”.

Speaking on the allegations passed onto them by local universities, the Council said “investigations have found that the evidence does not corroborate the claims being made.”

The Council added that “the work of the police and our teams have been well received with positive feedback”, but promised to “look into any issues highlighted to us”.

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AUTHOR: Joe Molander
Head of Current Affairs and co-founder of The Toon Lampoon. Politics, interviews, satire and the Courier's leading authority on frosted tips. @JoeMolander on Twitter and full portfolio available on Muckrack.

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