Derbyshire Police Federation

Easing of lockdown: ‘we need crystal-clear guidance’

14 May 2020

Police officers need clear guidance from the Government to enable them to police effectively as lockdown measures are eased, says Derbyshire Police Federation chair Tony Wetton.

He has also pointed out that policing has been asking for clarity around the social distancing rules for weeks and said he believed the changes announced by the Prime Minister on Sunday just make it more challenging for officers to identify when restrictions are being breached, leading to confusion and inconsistency.

“We do not want a repeat of some of the criticism we have seen since officers around the country are doing their very best in difficult and extremely challenging circumstances.  The Prime Minister has indicated a direction of travel in terms of how the country eventually leaves lock-down, and we now await the detail backing up the changes he announced,” says Tony.

“The permission to increase the amount of time out of the house will be very welcome to many.  The public must now take personal  responsibility in using that extra freedom without risking an increase in infections that could quickly undo all the good work that has been done so far.  We are still very far from safety in terms of a disastrous surge in infections.

“The approach of Derbyshire Police has been clear from the start in that officers will engage with anyone they feel is breaching the rules, explain why it is so important that the public stay at home, encourage them to do so and only as a last resort would the breach result in enforcement in the form of a fine. 

“Our officers have done a fantastic job in maintaining widespread observation of the restrictions while keeping the support of the public.  What constitutes a breach has changed slightly but I expect the approach to remain the same.  The level of the fine is to be increased and where required that is likely to create more conflict. 

“However, this is a global health crisis and we will continue to support the aim of protecting NHS capacity by doing what we can to make the restrictions effective in preventing the spread of the virus.”

The new guidance says people can:

  • Exercise outside as many times a day as they want - although a limit on the number of exercise sessions has never been enforced by law in England previously
  • Spend time outdoors, other than for exercise, as long as they are not meeting up with more than one person from outside their household while observing social distancing measures by keeping two metres apart, and continuing to wash their hands regularly
  • Drive to outdoor open spaces ‘irrespective of distance’ as long as they observe social distancing rules when there, and do not travel over borders to other parts of the UK where rules are different. Previously, the public were urged not to travel long distances to visit beaches, countryside and beauty spots.

No other specific examples of scenarios where members of the public would be considered to be flouting the rules, and therefore liable for fines, were provided.

Under the new guidelines, fines for people flouting the rules will increase to £100, lowered to £50 if paid within two weeks, and will double for each repeat offence up to a maximum of £3,200.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 were being updated from yesterday to reflect the changes coming into effect.

John Apter, national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, has called on the Government to provide ‘crystal clear’ guidance for police officers.

Speaking to Sky News earlier this week, he said: “Some of the sensational headlines in recent days have caused many of the people who we deal with to believe that the lockdown ended. We hear people say [social distancing] ‘it’s about common sense’ but some of the people we deal with don’t use common sense, so the guidance has got to be crystal clear.”

He also called for clarity around when it would be appropriate for officers to issue fines to those breaching social distancing.

“I can tell you my colleagues will not be issued with tape measures to check two metre distances. It’s about policing by consent and issuing fines is a last resort. I need to understand why we are doing that because when you increase the level of fine, that could cause greater conflict with the people you’re dealing with,” he said.

Read the Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy.

 

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