In a week when a whole raft of coronavirus regulations have been agreed and the country has entered another period of extreme restrictions you have been in touch in droves.
I’ve had former officers contacting me to ask if they can help out if the force becomes hit by Covid-19 infections, people commenting on the scheme to issue payments to Special Constables who carry out extra shifts and others concerned about the breaches to Covid-19 laws in their communities.
Many of you are worried that as a new strain of the virus takes hold, too many people are complacent about the risk of infection, people are making unlawful and unnecessary journeys to our villages and towns and a minority are not wearing masks and or observing social distancing.
The good news is that although some officers and staff are having to self-isolate or have become unwell the force is working as usual and able to respond, as are victim services that have continued to work throughout the pandemic. A scheme to call up recently retired officers was part of the force’s initial response to the virus, but thankfully it has not yet been necessary to put this into action.
The Chief Constable and I are keen that our services remain resilient though this national crisis and our residents receive the protection from others who put their own selfish needs above the safety of others.
Although high profile cases of people ignoring or flouting restrictions make the news, and therefore have a disproportionate impact, evidence shows that the vast majority of people are complying.
For those who are found making unnecessary trips Devon and Cornwall’s officers, like those of other forces, is continuing with the ‘four Es’ approach of Engaging, Explaining and Encouraging compliance before Enforcing. But as infection rates rise and people have fewer excuses for not understanding the law officers are becoming quicker to resort to Enforcement.
In the West we’ve been no pushover. The latest official release from the National Police Chiefs Council showed that Devon and Cornwall Police issued more fixed penalty notices for breaches of the rules than all but the Met Police and Dyfed-Powys Police. The level of the fine has now risen to £200 for a first offence, doubling for each further offence to a maximum of £6,400.
Businesses that flout the rules while their competitors comply can be fined or shut down by local authorities and anyone organising a gathering of more than 30 people can face a £10,000 penalty.
I support appropriate enforcement action because it sends the right message to the majority who are abiding by the regulations – often at significant personal expense.
It also sends a clear signal to those who might be tempted to weather the lockdown in Devon or Cornwall. While we typically welcome visitors to the westcountry, this winter they are likely to get the cold shoulder, not only from our residents but also from our police.
Last week I appealed for high profile individuals with second homes in our part of the world to set an example by avoiding unnecessary journeys from other parts of the country and I hope that they will listen and do their bit in helping to protect the NHS and our hospitals that are reaching a critical point by staying in their primary homes.
Unfortunately the threat posed from visitors to Devon and Cornwall is real. While the force area remains well below average infection rates both counties have seen sharp rises in the number of people being treated for the virus. In the seven days to January 2 Devon had an additional 358 cases to a total of 1,478 while Cornwall, which previously boasted some of the lowest infection rates in the county, now has more Covid-19 cases than Devon, with an additional 1,136 cases in seven days, taking total case numbers to 1,859.
It is now incumbent on all of us to do what we can to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. We have tight knit and law abiding communities in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and I am convinced that by working together and looking after each other we will be able to minimise the impact of this devastating disease.
If people do have concerns and want to report suspected Covid-19 breaches the force now has dedicated resources to patrol paid for by the Government through its Covid enforcement fund. There is a dedicated reporting tool available, as well as a regularly updated frequently asked questions section, on the force website. Devon and Cornwall Police is one of a few forces that have made information available in this way and is held up as good practice.