As New Year progresses, the struggle continues with much focus now on the vaccine roll out, but there’s also growing concern about the enforcement of lockdown arrangements. Two women were fined by Derbyshire Police, later rescinded, after a story appeared about them driving five miles to walk around a reservoir while carrying hot drinks.
There have also been questions about a seven-mile bike ride involving the PM and even West Mids Police, who’ve generally won approval for their approach, have been criticised for action against Justice for the 21 campaigners; a group with whom they have some history.
The police, like many other public sector workers, are under enormous pressure.
They’re suffering high levels of sickness and even Boris Johnson has had to concede they’re severely understrength.
For the public that usually translates into complaints about rising car theft, knife crime and violent assault. Now the police find themselves also responsible for public health policing.
There’s concern that this will put a strain on relations and affect the long-standing concept of policing by consent.
Until recently the 4Es approach – engage, encourage, explain and, as a last resort, enforce has worked well, but ministers are now demanding tougher action. People are being stopped in cars registered outside the area and I recently heard of someone questioned at a rail station while on their way to work.
‘Stay at home’ is a clear enough message but, putting aside questions about bike rides, the PM did travel 120 miles this week to visit a vaccination centre and we continue to only operate a partial online parliament, meaning large numbers of MPs still travel to and from Westminster on a weekly basis.
The Chief Constable of West Mids Police has appealed for public cooperation and said that his officers will concentrate on educating. He also conceded however, plans for targeted policing in areas where rates are highest.
The danger with the government blaming the public for the spread of the virus, might be that those who end up on the receiving end are the poor police officers whom ministers expect to police wholly unrealistic situations.