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Wiltshire Police Federation

Federation Chairman: There are simply not enough officers to police new face coverings rule

3 August 2020

There are simply ‘not enough’ police officers in Wiltshire for them to police the new rules around face coverings, the county’s Police Federation has said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Home Office want forces around the country to play a more prominent role in ensuring people wear face masks when out shopping and in other indoor spaces.

Speaking at a recent press briefing, the Prime Minister insisted there would be "a greater police presence" to ensure people abide by the rules.

The current recommendations" to wear masks will become enforceable by law from August 8th Number 10 said.

However, the only way police will be able to enforce the law is if they get more officers on the beat, Mark Andrews Chairman of Wiltshire Police Federation said. 

“If you’re asking for a greater police presence and a more robust dealing of the legislation behind face coverings and behind the other legislative factors throughout COVID-19 then you’re going to have to have more police officers,” he said.

“We don’t have them. We don’t have the numbers. In Wiltshire, we have 950 police officers. Only 300 of those are on the frontline, that’s uniformed police officers who would be responding to calls coming into our control room, that’s emergency calls, so they’re responding to that. 

“Yes, we’ll deal with it when we can, but it’s going to be very hard.”

Dealing with large gatherings have been drawing police resources away from other issues, Mark said, and an apparent blurring of the rules around what people now can and cannot do has made policing the regulations ‘virtually impossible’.

“My officers’ experience in the main has been about those unlawful gatherings. That has been made more difficult by the blurring of the lines and the confusion around how people, how many families, can gather and where they can gather etc.,” Mark said.

“That’s made it virtually impossible for police officers to enforce. People are confused and if they’re confused; we’re only human, and we will try our best to ensure that we have the proper legislation and we will try to encourage people to follow it, but it’s understandable why they’re confused.

“With regards to face coverings, it is something that we want to encourage our partners, storekeepers, etc., to ensure that nobody gets in without a face covering so that we don’t get involved.

“We can’t be there all the time, at every incident where someone is not wearing a face mask. We have to prioritise based on the resources that we have. It’s easy to say that we need an increased presence of police officers at each incident. We just can’t do it.”

While people have mostly followed the rules, Mark is concerned that willingness and cooperation could peter out if a second coronavirus wave hits the UK.

“In Wiltshire, we try to encourage people to follow the legislation before we go down the enforcement route,” he said.