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Police used its Covid-19 powers legitimately, panel finds

Devon and Cornwall Police has used its new covid-19 powers legitimately, appropriately and proportionately in the first phase of the crisis, the Police and Crime Commissioner’s scrutiny panel has found.

In a virtual panel that took place online on Monday 4 May and was chaired by the Police and Crime Commissioner, Alison Hernandez, included members of the public observed that during the pandemic the Police had, in terms of public perception, a difficult task because different people want and expect different things from them. The panel considered the opinions of individuals who had felt a genuine cause to complain or felt dissatisfied with the Force’s approach, but overall, and based on all the information reviewed, it considered that the Force’s response had been proportionate.  

Alison Hernandez said: “The relationship between police and communities and the concept of policing by consent is still the cornerstone of our approach in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Therefore, the view of panel members was very reassuring as it showed that the police have at this stage achieved the right balance in continuing to engage with the public while ensuring they use their new powers effectively in the first phase of the pandemic. 

“The panel members appreciated that the Police was operating under difficult circumstances with national guidance that sometimes felt confusing and created certain operational challenges.

“It was particularly interesting to see the recognition that the pandemic, whilst devastating, had created a moment in time where police officers had the opportunity to reconnect with their communities. Many members reflected on the opportunity to consider whether some policing practices could be done differently in the future.”

Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer said: “I have always welcomed an independent view of the performance of the Force.  This was a moment in time when our policing style as well as our use of powers was tested.   This public feedback involving the Commissioner was shared with the Covid operational commander to enable dynamic feedback on our policing style during Covid-19.

“Since that time new guidelines have been published and we continue to police both fairly and proportionately as we did during the first phase and which is clearly identified by our communities as the style of policing they wish for and the style of policing identified by the panel.  Our overall aim will continue to be one that sees us engage, educate and encourage people to comply with Government guidance.”

In their findings, the panel considered a range information including legislation, regulations, guidance, the number of complaints received by the Force, correspondence to the commissioner, national briefing papers, the views of frontline officers, public opinion surveys, body worn video and the number of overall penalties issued by the Police, a social media poll carried out by the commissioner, and the results of the Force’s ‘Pulse Survey’ to establish a view on the public’s perception of the Force’s use of its new powers. In addition, the Commissioner sought the views of MPs.  

Members of the panel are recruited via the OPCC and come from across Devon and Cornwall. They include a recent graduate with experience of scrutiny in the criminal justice system; two former military personnel (one with experience of scrutiny within the social housing sector); a member with an education sector background; and one with significant experience in leading and managing volunteers.

The full report can be found in the scrutiny section of the OPCC website.