Lancashire police boss: "We won't shy away from enforcing Covid rules"
A top Lancashire cop has reassured the public they won't be 'breaking down doors' to enforce Covid rules - but has warned they will act to protect the 'decent' majority from those blatantly flouting the law.
Deputy Chief Constable Terry Woods says that while officers will be using their discretion and "decent" people need not worry, they won't be shying away from fining blatant and repeat offenders.
Infact Lancashire is one of the highest fine issuing forces in the country, with 1,507 given out since last March.
"Lots of people have been asking me about how tough we're going to be", said DCC Woods.
"I had a really good kick about with the senior team when it was announced that rules were changing. Me and the Chief (Constable) have, from very early on in the pandemic, tried to be as consistent as possible for the staff and the public. We need a really clear directive for the staff because the rules are changing all the time.
"Lancashire has had probably most rule changes in terms of tiers and what you can do in different parts of the county.
"But the reassurance message we want to get out is that we are not going to over or under-react to anything."
DCC Woods said most of the enforcement that has taken place since March 2020 has been as a result of tip-offs from the public, with house parties the main problem.
He said: The public in Lancashire are motivated to ring us.
"When the virus is at its peak, that's when we get more reports, and the vast bulk of fines have been in relation to people ringing police to report a breach, such as a house party.
"House parties by a country mile are where we've taken more action.
"But we don't seem to have the same level of problem as you get in the West Midlands or in Manchester. Our communities are decent people who answer the door to us and in nine out of 10 cases, we can resolve the issue.
"We won't be breaking doors down. We don't have to."
DCC Woods also said Lancashire Police will not be carrying out random roadside checks on drivers or putting roadblocks in place.
"There is a perception that we are doing that, because we had very successful checkpoints at Christmas targeting drink and drug-drivers.
"But we won't be doing any checkpoints around Covid, we don't feel we need to.
"We stop a lot of cars anyway as part of our normal policing, and when we do, we will be asking Covid questions. We won't change our style."
He added: "There are two key things with enforcement in Lancashire. If we come across you breaking the rules and we believe you have made an honest mistake, it was a momentary lapse and you're a decent person who can accept the situation, then we will use our discretion and it's a warning.
"But if we come across someone who knows what they're doing is wrong and is blatant about it, then there won't be a warning, and there hasn't been up to now.
"We won't be shying away from it, we have a role to play in public safety, nobody else is going to enforce the rules.
"We have to look after the silent majority. The people who aren't on Facebook, your normal, decent people who work hard."
DCC Woods said there were two or three distinct categories of people breaking the rules.
He said: "From the start, there are always a group of people who just don't believe in the law of the land, people who we've dealt with over many years for things like burglary and drug-dealing. That's the majority of people we've been tackling.
"Then you've got indoor gatherings. Usually you will get someone on the road ringing up to tell us there's a house party going on. It tends to be people in their late teens to 30 involved. Then in East Lancashire we've had a higher instance of unlicenced music events.
"On New Years Eve we had 80 18-25-year-olds at a party in Baxenden, we've had a rave under an M65 bridge in Hapton and a huge gathering at Entwistle Reservoir near Darwen."
DCC Woods praised his staff for "going above and beyond" since the start of the pandemic, and said the situation had brought out the best in the force, which has also accelerated its use of technology, with handheld electronic notebooks now widespread, and the use of video calling common.
He also backed a call from the Lancashire Police Federation for police officers to be among those prioritised for Covid vaccinations.
DCC Woods said: "We don't want to be priortised above the most vulnerable in society, but it hasn't been clear where police come in the pecking order for vaccines.
"Our officers on the front line are dealing with the most vulnerable in society and often coming into contact with the elderly, the sick, road traffic collisions, and they need protection.
"We also need to make sure that we are protected so as a force we can respond properly."
What does the Police Federation say?
Rachel Handley, chair of the Lancashire Police Federation, said: "The practicalities of policing this latest change in regulations will be challenging, but policing will do all it can to keep the public safe, but we need the public to support us. As per the current guidance, officers will be doing all they can to encourage people to do the right thing, without resorting to enforcement.
"Parts of the new regulations will be difficult, if not almost impossible to enforce and the already stretched service will once again be taking the brunt of people's frustrations. Officers are regularly faced with being spat at and offenders are using COVID as a weapon, which is vile.
"Despite many of our members being on the front line dealing with vulnerable people, there are no plans yet to prioritise vaccinations for officers, we call upon the government to rethink this urgently.
"This is not about putting officers ahead of the most vulnerable and elderly, or frontline NHS staff, but without the vaccine there is a real danger that more officers will contract the virus, be off sick from work, spread it to their families and members of the public and thereby threaten the resilience of the service.
"Levels of non COVID related demand are as they were before the pandemic, we need to be resilient enough to respond when our communities need us.
What does the Police and Crime Commissioner say?
Clive Grunshaw, Lancashire's Police and Crime Commissioner said: "This pandemic has been a challenging and often frightening time for people and the announcement of a new national lockdown due to the rising rate of coronavirus infection across the country sees us all having to continue playing our part to protect the NHS and save lives.
"Throughout the last ten months, the message from the Chief Constable and I has been that policing powers will only be used as a last resort, with officers continuing to engage with and educate people. People found ignoring police advice are putting themselves and others in danger and officers have not hesitated to use the new powers robustly when faced with the relatively small number of people who have ignored the rules.
"With vaccination programmes stepping up I am hopeful that there is an end in sight to the type of restrictions that have become all too familiar to us all. However, we need to work together to save lives and keep each other safe, with social distancing remaining our best weapon in this fight.
"There are going to be more tough weeks ahead, but I’m proud of how the majority of residents in Lancashire have adapted to this crisis, following the Government guidance and kept themselves and each other safe."