Coronavirus: Police may be 'overwhelmed' in efforts to patrol lockdown

·2-min read

Police forces in England may not have the resources to effectively patrol lockdown, the national chair of the Police Federation has warned.

John Apter told Sky News there were not enough officers to cope with what he fears will be an increase in illegal behaviour.

"We are stretched like never before because we're policing in a way like never before," he said.

"But in protecting the NHS from being overwhelmed, what I don't want is for policing to be overwhelmed, because that is a real risk."

From Thursday, people will be told to stay at home, except for specific reasons.

But Mr Apter believes the public will be less compliant with lockdown rules than they were in March.

"There is a real concern that there will be less compliance" he said.

"There will always be an element of non-compliance from people who just don't like rules.

"It's when you get the silent majority, those people who understand why legislation is there, when they start pushing back that's a real concern. I hope we don't reach that place but there's a real concern that we could."

His warnings come after police in south Gloucestershire closed down an illegal rave attended by 700 people at a warehouse near Bristol over the weekend.

But Mr Apter said mass gatherings, like peaceful protests, would not automatically be broken up.

"We don't have the resources to go into thousands of people protesting peacefully, and give them all tickets", he said.

"It could turn what is a peaceful protest into a violent confrontation and we would not be able to deal with that."

As with the first national lockdown, police will have the power to issue fines for anyone breaking the rules but Mr Apter insisted enforcement would only be used as a last resort.

"We police with consent. Where we have to get involved, lay hands on, make arrests then we will. We won't shy away from that but our style of policing is policing by consent," he said

"There are people who are making genuine mistakes. And I don't think it's right in this country with our style of policing to go in heavy handed. You educate, you explain, and you hope the message gets through."

Mr Apter conceded that, at times, officers had also found the rapidly changing legislation difficult to follow.

"Police officers don't absorb it overnight", he said.

"They are human beings...we're learning as we go.

"Can we carry on doing everything that's expected of us? I'm not sure we can or if we do, we don't do it as well as we want to."