Some days it is utter torture to have a "day job", and today was one such day. When the news hit the wires that a police department in North Wales was being sued by one of their own over how an outbreak of Avian Influenza was handled by the police and the resultant disease I sat up and took immediate note.
In some respects police work is akin to a "family business". Having been one, being married to a retired officer, the daughter and sister of others, and finally, the mother of a patrol officer, I am naturally interested in most things law enforcement. But when law enforcement also crosses into Avian Influenza/PanFlu I am more than idly curious.
Nov 2 2007 by Roland Hughes, Daily Post
A POLICE officer who stood guard outside a farm at the centre of the bird flu outbreak fell ill and are now suing North Wales Police.
There is confusion on my part as to whether there are one or two officers involved. The early stories on the internet indicated two, and the wording of this sentence, as well as a few others, still show what might be "echoes" of that earlier release.
The officer is claiming compensation for inadequate training and a failure to provide them with protective clothing.
A constant issue within law enforcement departments is training. Any well run department has ongoing training for its personnel. Ongoing training can, and should, cover firearms (of course), self-defense, civil and vicarious liability issues, legal issues and changes in criminal law, and in America at least, "sensitivity" training. These are the minimum issues addressed on a rotating training schedule throughout the year by departments that concern themselves with the welfare of their officers and the communities they serve.
Professional departments concern themselves with the wellbeing of their officers. In modern law enforcement it costs a lot of money to properly train a police officer, and when an officer finds him or herself on a department that doesn't take the necessary steps to safeguard their life and health, with proper training and proper equipment, those officers tend to quickly go someplace where they do and that big chunk of training budget expended is lost to that department. Yes, police departments are like any private business; the bottom line counts and funds are not limitless.
But an equally driving motivation is vicarious liability. One of my husband's division assignments was that of Commander of Training, so I am reasonably informed on at least the broad brush stroke issues that I speak. And while any police officer is in constant danger of civil lawsuits, as the Commander of Training being named in a civil action for some "lack" on his part was always an encumbrance to the security and safety of our very home.
Two members of the officers' family also fell ill – and are understood to be included in the landmark legal action lodged against the force.
Wales' first-ever case of bird flu was confirmed on a smallholding near Llanfihangel Glyn Myfyr, Corwen, in late May this year. The outbreak was confirmed as H7N2, a less pathogenic strain of the virus than the deadly H5N1, which struck at a Suffolk turkey farm and is circulating in Asia.
Police immediately set up a 1km cordon around the farm to restrict movement, with officers preventing access and looking after the owners, Barbara Cowling and Tony Williams.
But while officers wore their usual police uniforms, public health staff attended in full protective gear.
Both Ms Cowling and Mr Williams showed flu-like symptoms, but tested negative for the illness.
However, the officer showed similar symptoms soon after visiting the farm, with two family members, including a child, following suit.
Doctors are understood to have indicated the policeman did show symptoms of non-human flu, although public health officials yesterday said not all tests had been completed.
The officer felt he were not given adequate training in how to act in the event of a bird flu outbreak.
I am torn between being excited about the issue of information, training, and protection of and from Avian Influenza being brought to bear on departments worldwide and my sense that I should be outraged over a civil suit for what is, in essence, a case of "the flu". Is some other wife sitting at home worried about losing her home in a civil action over "the flu"?
The Larger Threat demands that police departments inform and provide protection for their officers when faced with the dangers of Avian Influenza, and that is especially true when H5N1 is involved, although this particular incident involved H7N2.
Compared to the cost of some standard equipment issued or made available to police officers, the cost of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment: masks, gloves, bio-suits) are downright cheap. The fact that officers were deployed to the scene of a known biohazard without the proper protection is comparable to sending a police officer out without bullets, Barney Fife aside.
Asked about the legal action, a North Wales Police spokeswoman said: "We can confirm that representation has been made to our legal department.
"The matter is still currently under investigation and therefore it would be inappropriate to comment further."
The North Wales Police Federation, which would support the officers' cases, chose not to comment on the case when contacted by the Daily Post.
Public health chiefs said a total of 17 people showed flu-like symptoms in the wake of the outbreak, and a similar case at another farm near Pwllheli days later.
Chris Lines, of the National Public Health Service for Wales, said it was still not known exactly how many people fell ill, and whether those illnesses were down to the bird flu outbreak.
He said: "We are awaiting the results of serology tests. Essentially, some months after someone has fallen ill, it is a test we can do which shows antibodies you have in your blood.
"If you did indeed suffer the illness, then you will have developed the antibodies. But the tests will take some months to do."
Mr Lines would not confirm whether police officers were among those who had been tested.
I will watch this case with great interest, both out of general curiosity and because of very personal reasons. I may be an ex-cop but I am the mother of cop, and mother trumps just about everything.