Just one in 10 police officers think COVID laws introduced last year were clear, study reveals

Ross McGuinness
·3-min read
PENARTH, WALES - FEBRUARY 06: Police perform COVID-19 travel checks at the entrance to Penarth Marina on February 6, 2021 in Penarth, Wales. Wales has extended most of its current lockdown provisions, which only permit essential travel, until February 19. However, people will now be able to meet up with a person from another household to exercise locally, and will be allowed to revise their support bubbles. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)
Only one in 10 police officers said COVID-19 laws were clear. (Getty Images)

Only one in 10 police officers think the coronavirus legislation introduced by the government last year was clear, a survey has revealed.

The head of the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) has called on the government to avoid “mixed messages” when laying out future regulations on COVID-19.

The police body warned Boris Johnson “not to repeat the lack of clarity over last year’s pandemic measures”.

The prime minister is set to lay out his road map for exiting lockdown later on Monday.

Johnson is expected to announce that all schools in England can reopen from 8 March, when outdoor recreation with one other person will also be permitted, meaning people could sit down together in a park for a coffee, drink or picnic.

The next phase of the government’s plan would see outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households, including in private gardens, permitted from 29 March.

Organised outdoor sport for adults and children could also return from that date.

But John Apter, the PFEW’s national chair, told Sky News: "For today's announcement, I plead with the prime minister just to give absolute clarity.”

Watch: Prime minister to unveil road map out of lockdown

Speaking about the laws introduced last year, he said: "We have seen examples where we may have got things wrong because it is not easy to interpret what is legislation, what is guidance.

"There were mixed messages, there was encouragement for people when we were coming out of lockdown to meet up with their friends, but legislation was still in place in some areas."

Apter also said police are “frustrated” that the incoming legislation for easing the lockdown will only apply to England.

“The other nations will do things slightly differently which will also be unhelpful,” he said.

The federation’s Demand, Capacity and Welfare Survey received more than 12,400 responses from officers.

A total of 10% of officers agreed with the statement: “New police powers introduced to manage the COVID-19 crisis have been clear.”

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Another 71% disagreed with the statement, while 19% neither agreed or disagreed.

The poll, carried out between 5 October and 23 November last year, surveyed about 10% of all federated rank officers in England and Wales, said the PFEW.

During the pandemic, police officers have adopted the “four Es” approach to implementing coronavirus regulations – engage, explain, encourage and enforce.

A day after London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced the spread of Covid is said to be out of control, Met police officers walk towards a group of Covid-deniers who are challenging lockdown rules and authoritarian control at passing south Londoners in Brockwell Park in Lambeth and during the third pandemic lockdown, on 9th January 2021, in London, England. The Coronavirus infection rate in London has exceeded 1,000 per 100,000 people, based on the latest figures from Public Health England although the Office for National Statistics recently estimated as many as one in 30 Londoners has coronavirus. (Photo by Richard Baker / In Pictures via Getty Images)
Police bosses have called for greater clarity over coronavirus laws. (Getty Images)

But the PFEW survey found just 24% of respondents agreed this had been effective when dealing with the public.

Apter said: “Given the fact that there have been more than 60 rule changes introduced during the pandemic, it comes as no surprise whatsoever that only 10% of police officers who responded to our survey said they found the COVID-19 rule changes to be clear.

“We have been saying from the beginning, clear guidance on what people can and can’t do is needed; otherwise people will inadvertently fall foul of the law or may take advantage of the mixed messages.

“And it’s my colleagues who are on the frontline of these changes, continually playing catch-up to get their heads around the latest information.”

Last month, it emerged that one in three police officers had been threatened with deliberate COVID-19 infection by members of the public claiming to have coronavirus.

Watch: What you can and can't do during England's lockdown