Police crackdown could see public fined for breaking coronavirus restrictions
The force’s chief constable Dave Thompson said the restrictions imposed as a response to the coronavirus outbreak were largely a matter of personal responsibility, and police officers would primarily work with the public to achieve mutual cooperation.
It comes after the Prime Minister announced on Monday that people must stay home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Boris Johnson announced a ban on public gatherings of more than two people, with the closure of non-essential shops, playgrounds, libraries, leisure centres, gyms and places of worship.
Although, urging the British people to remain at home, some exceptions were made allowing individuals to leave the house for exercise once per day, to shop for necessary goods, to help vulnerable people and if their work can’t be done from home.
However, only a day after the restrictions were announced, police found themselves having to break up a group of 20 people hosting a barbecue in Foleshill, Coventry.
As Chief Constable Thompson set out how the force will be ensuring people follow the rules, he stressed the majority of people across the West Midlands had been cooperative and had shown “tremendous community spirit”.
You can only leave your home for one of four reasons:
- Shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible.
- One form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household.
- Any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person.
- Travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.
In a video message, the West Midlands Police chief said:
“This week as a nation, we saw the Prime Minister to ask us to impose the most substantial restrictions on the population ever seen in this country’s history.
“The police have been asked to ensure the public stick to these guidelines.
“I want to be clear the vast majority of the public of West Midlands Police are taking these directions seriously.
“Let’s be clear, the public are the people who will enforce this, by regulating their own behaviour and making it clear that breaching these rules is something to be disapproved of. The police are here to help the public with this. We’re going to be out in communities, offering advice for those who don’t understand what these rules mean.
“We are going to be engaging with people who are not following them. As a last resort, we will use enforcement, but out aim is not to fill the custody block with people or to issue plenty of enforcement notices, it’s to change behaviour and we all have a role in doing that.
“I can assure the public at this time, we are out and about. We’re able to provide that visible service to ensure the public follow these directions.”
Thompson praised regional communities coming together to help the vulnerable in recent weeks, and reminded the public to remain vigilant and responsible.
“At the same time we ask for you to make sure you look carefully what’s being asked of you and follow this strictly and please, please ensure that you’re buying responsibly. Buying what you need means for today and maybe tomorrow, it does not mean for the next three weeks while this restriction exists.
“Can I thank you all for the tremendous community spirit that we’re seeing in this conurbation. Looking out for individual neighbours and vulnerable people – we need to keep that up, but please ensure at this critical time you follow these directions.
“Reducing social contact will save lives and it will save our NHS from being overwhelmed by the coronavirus. Thank you for your assistance.”
How West Midlands Police are enforcing social distancing measures:
Officers and PCSOs will primarily engage positively but safely with anyone they suspect is in breach of the new restrictions. According to WMP, they will also explain these restrictions and what they expect from the public. They will:
• Make it clear they are dealing with a national health emergency
• Reinforce the importance of complying with these new measures
• Strongly encourage people to adhere to them at all times
• Reinforce that the measures are there to protect the country and in particular the vulnerable
• Ask that you do not buy more food than you need as everyone needs to look after each other.
If people do not heed police advice then officers will move to enforcement. As part of these enforcement powers, police officers can issue a fixed penalty notice of:
- £60, which will be lowered to £30 if they pay within 14 days
- £120 if they break the restrictions a second time, doubling on each further repeat offence
- If someone doesn’t pay their fixed penalty notice, they could go to court, where magistrates can impose an unlimited fine.
If someone refuses to comply, they will be acting unlawfully, and may be arrested if deemed proportionate and necessary.
West Midlands Police are asking public to trust that they will target the most problematic behaviour, and that these measures will only work if people make sensible choices and observe what they are being told.
WMP are already receiving many calls on potential breaches of the new restrictions, and are encouraging public to contact them via live chat or 101 if there are large numbers of people congregating somewhere.
WATCH: Chief Constable Dave Thompson on coronavirus restrictions
For more information on coronavirus and the government’s official response, click here.