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Why our ‘explain and engage’ approach needs to have an ‘enforce’ option

In her latest blog, Alison talks about policing Covid-19 and improvements to the police estate.

The positive relationship between the police and public is a cornerstone of the approach to policing in Devon and Cornwall. Therefore, the enforcement measures for failure to follow Covid-19 guidance has sometimes felt difficult to navigate but I am confident our officers are taking the right approach.

In the first instance, police officers, staff and volunteers always try to engage with the public seeking to understand their reasons for seeming to flout the restrictions and educating and informing them of their obligations. However, there will always be a small group where enforcement is the only option and vital to ensure that lives are saved and the NHS is protected.

Despite warnings and a #ComeBackLater campaign supported by my office and our many partners, people still visited us over the Easter weekend, putting their own interests before the needs of some of society’s most vulnerable members.

From Good Friday to Easter Monday, Devon and Cornwall Police carried out over 4,000 targeted high visibility patrols, speaking to 5,500 people, warning 960 of them for failure to follow Covid-19 guidance and issuing 169 £60 fines to those who refused to comply.

The number fined is more than most of the 43 forces in England and Wales and around a quarter of those fined were from outside the force area. Among those made to pay the £60 fee and asked to head home was a family from London who had visited the Westcountry on a fishing trip.

Now that the lockdown has been extended for another three weeks, it is vital that frontline officers continue with this approach, educating the public where necessary but issuing fines when restrictions are clearly being flouted.

Most of the public are making extraordinary sacrifices at the moment in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and I think most are fully supportive of these new powers. I am confident that officers will continue to use their judgement and common sense and our Chief Constable, officers and staff will continue to have my full support, when carrying out their duties to ensure the most vulnerable in society continue to be kept safe.

This week there have been plenty of reminders that business as usual still needs to happen and certain projects, such as vital improvement to the police estate, must remain on track even if our normal ways of working have been disrupted. The relocation of Barnstaple Police station is one of those projects that must continue as the safety of officers, staff, volunteers and the public always must be our absolute priority.

I am pleased to say that talks to secure alternative premises In North Devon for officers and staff, as well as suitable custody provision, are progressing well and I hope to be able to provide residents of North Devon with a significant update soon.

In another development, police officers and staff worked around the clock to bring forward the opening of the Exeter custody centre and public enquiry office at the £29 million Sidmouth Road building, which had been due to open later in April.

I would like to thank all of those who have worked so hard to make rapid progress on these complex projects despite significant challenges posed by the coronavirus lockdown.

As I have said, ensuring that the balance between enforcement and engagement is the right one is not always easy and I want to thank every single one of our officers who have been working hard every day to ensure we are all safe. They have been ably supported by our special constables who have been invaluable in the contribution they are making to support the frontline at this challenging time.

Many of them have chosen to increase their hours at this time, especially over the Easter break, and in March alone, they volunteered a total of 5,589 hours to ensure our communities are protected. In East Cornwall, for example, seven special constables did 13 shifts between them over the bank holiday weekend.

There have also been examples of police staff who are special constables, being redeployed in a full-time capacity during the crisis, playing a vital role in patrolling neighbourhoods and engaging with the public. Our special constables are making such a huge contribution to the efforts of the force and should be congratulated on the selfless contribution they are making.

If you have been inspired by the work of Devon and Cornwall’s special constables, recruitment is now open – visit the force website for details.

Alison Hernandez