Time for police to enforce lockdown laws and rules – Sarah Todd

“ENGAGE, explain, encourage ...” is the mantra for the police when it comes to enforcing coronavirus rules.

It’s a policy that brings to mind middle-class mummies in the supermarket explaining naughty behaviour to their little angel when what’s required is the proverbial clip around the ear.

There is nothing wrong with the idea of explaining and educating but there are circumstances – such as a global pandemic – when the good cop approach just doesn’t cut the mustard. In this correspondent’s mind the police force has got its messaging wrong from the very beginning.

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The “Four Es” of engaging, explaining, encouraging and then (only as a last resort) enforcing is too weak a message. Police chiefs on the television news come across as – sorry to be harsh – wet. They bring to mind the kind of parents who say “if you do that again, we’re going to cuddle up together on the naughty step and talk about it”.

Police are being urged to take a harder line with lockdown rulebreakers.

The majority of the public wear masks and follow the rules but there is no doubt that people are getting tired of their lives being restricted. Now, more than ever, the police need to be visible. They also need to be seen to be taking action.

Just after Christmas, we went to a big shopping centre on the outskirts of York to return some unwanted presents. The queue to get in was beyond belief. Rather than join the waiting masses we ended up doing a U-turn and not bothering; but not before twigging how many West Yorkshire accents there were in the queue.

Now all the tier business is rather confusing, but our understanding was that West Yorkshire was at that point in Tier 3 and therefore its residents shouldn’t be out shopping in Tier 2. There was one security guard on duty and there was nobody asking people where they had travelled from. What harm would it have done to have had a police van drive around and put the wind up everyone? If they had typed in a few numberplates, they would doubtless have caught some shoppers who shouldn’t have been there.

Chucking our parcels back in the car boot, we drove into the city centre and walked by York Minster. There was a congregation of lads on skateboards – all from the same household? – intimidating passers-by. A few (socially distanced) glances were exchanged with others whose hackles had been raised by the way the skateboards were scarring the beautiful new paving stones before being aimed directly into the paths of pedestrians.

Police at an anti-lockdown protest in London - but should they be taking a firmer stance with those breaching the current lockdown?

Like at the shopping centre earlier, accents were again noticeable. Liverpool, West Yorkshire, North East … Where were the police?

This isn’t a rhetorical question. There is an answer. They were sat up the A64 with speed cameras sticking out of the back of vans. Somehow, this leaves a very bad taste. Perhaps it’s indicative of a police policy that is all about an easier life. So much simpler to sit in a layby and get the income of speeding tickets than it is to be actively out and about supporting the communities they serve through these tough times.

Poor old Scarborough and the other coastal towns have had it hard with visitors from high-infection rate areas not heeding the stay at home message. It’s the same in rural villages and beauty spots. Nobody thinks they are going to get “done” for breaking the rules.

Numerous families will meet up for a walk and look right at you in a defiant way as they park outside people’s houses, touching the footpath gates as they go. Notices have had to go up to keep spaces free for carers and to keep road junctions clear. Would they think twice if they saw a police van drive through? Or if, heaven above, they were actually approached by someone in uniform and asked what on earth they are doing.

Police at a recent anti-lockdown protest in London.

There were six people in a petrol station the other day, waiting to pay. This motorist was the only one with a mask on. The young girl behind the counter was almost in tears as she tried her best to get people to abide by the rules. She was ignored and shouted at in equal measure. Businesses need back-up and support from the police. Engaging, explaining and encouraging is no 
better than a chocolate fireguard when it comes to certain sectors of the population.

Policing is like running a pub or a post office. The wider population is always an expert; they think they could do better.

They would have different beer or sandwiches and be open longer hours but when push comes to shove they wouldn’t make any better job of it.

I’m no Juliet Bravo; maybe more Heartbeat on a winter’s evening in the Aidensfield Arms. But the yummy mummy approach to pandemic policing isn’t working.

Forget engage, explain and encourage and be more Joseph Kennedy, patriarch of the political dynasty, who gave us the line that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Sarah Todd is a former editor of Yorkshire Life magazine. She is a farmer’s daughter, mother and journalist specialising in country life.

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