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Blog: When policing the pandemic becomes borderline

Blog: When policing the pandemic becomes borderline

Firstly don’t believe everything you read in the papers… 

Quite often they do get it wrong.

Gloucestershire Constabulary were not policing the welsh border, but they were being proactive around COVID in and around the Forest of Dean and that did involve stopping people and sending them back to Wales.

“The police are the public and the public are the police.”

I spoke to the Constabulary’s senior leaders recently and reminded them that the latest Covid-19 legislation had restricted our freedoms in ways that would have been unimaginable 12 months ago.

I also stressed the importance of maintaining the public’s support and not taking it for granted.

So, when the Constabulary received £229.000 from the Government to beef-up enforcement, I immediately asked the Chief Constable what that would mean.

We then shared his explanation with the public in a webcast so that everyone knew where they stood.

Welsh lockdown

24 hours later, the Welsh lockdown was announced.

The Chief was clear that having engaged, explained & encouraged for many weeks, flagrant breaches of the rule of six, whether by eight students having a beer in a hall of residents or a similar size dinner party in the Cotswolds, were now more likely to result in enforcement.

To me, that sounded clear and proportionate.

Let’s be clear, the police have operational independence but they are also accountable; first to the law and second to their Police & Crime Commissioner and so I sought an explanation.

There is no handbook for policing a pandemic.

It transpired, the Constabulary had been running an operation in the Forest in response to community concerns around burglary, cycle theft and other rural crimes as well as reports of overcrowding at local tourist spots with the consequential lack of social distancing.

Part of that operation involved checking motorists thought to be on leisure trips to England from Wales which from Friday 1800 was against Welsh law.

Whatever your view, and it has generated a fair amount of mail in my in-tray, I am satisfied they were trying to do right.

Some got it wrong and in the finest traditions of policing they’ve been held to account by me, the public and the media.

The operation continues but has been refined.

Public voice in policing

As Commissioner I must give the public a voice, yet with winter approaching, infections soaring, differing restrictions and laws not just across England but also across the Union, the chances of a united view on enforcement are, at best, unlikely.

There is no handbook for policing a pandemic. All views are valid but whilst respecting and protecting their operational independence, the police must act proportionally, lawfully and be accountable and on that I hope we can all agree.

Martin Surl
martinsurl@policecommissioner.net