One of Britain’s most senior police officers has urged the public not to judge officers too harshly in their policing of coronavirus lockdown measures amid growing criticism of the force’s responses.
At the same time, Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Neil Basu says officers should strive to preserve the public’s confidence through persuasion and education, rather than automatic enforcement, after allegations of “over-zealous” policing of social distancing regulations.
Complaints have included that people have been fined £60 for going out to buy items deemed non-essential, or for going on a drive due to boredom.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Basu called for the public to show understanding toward police, and for officers to “police by consent” as they are compelled to use powers he “never imagined a British police officer would be asked to use”.
“Everyone in policing is acutely aware that how we police this pandemic will be remembered for many years to come,” Mr Basu wrote.
“Preserving the trust and confidence of the public by policing by consent is our mantra, and has been since 1829. There will be a period of readjustment to our new responsibilities, which no police officer ever thought they would have.”
We know things are moving quickly with #Covid19, so we’ve worked with @CollegeofPolice to explain what the new regulations actually mean, and how the police might deal with those who do not comply. Please share.
— NPCC #StayHomeSaveLives (@PoliceChiefs) March 26, 2020
Mr Basu urged officers to heed calls by two of Britain’s most senior officers, Metropolitan Police commissioner Dame Cressida Dick and Martin Hewitt, the chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), that “persuasion and education to do the right thing is our primary goal”, rather than being too quick to impose punishments.
Meanwhile, the NPCC has denied a report in The Guardian saying it is drawing up new guidance for officers not to “over-reach” in their lockdown enforcements as a result of the complaints received.
“We are not rewriting our guidance to officers,” the NPCC tweeted. “It remains the same as it was. Engage, explain, encourage and finally enforce. This is a fast changing situation and we, along with the public, are adapting as we go forward.”