West Yorkshire Police Federation Chairman Brian Booth gave the Yorkshire Evening Post an insight into the way policing has changed since the lockdown began, both within Leeds and West Yorkshire communities and nationally.
He said that the force has been dealing with a rise in domestic abuse reports at a time when people are living in close quarters without much chance to leave the house, and that there had been a rise in calls from people reporting others for potential flouting of regulations.
Mr Booth said: "As far as we are concerned at the moment it is policing as normal, but the way we do what we normally do is different.
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“We still do all the things our officers do, it’s just different.
“For example we try to conduct interviews electronically wherever possible instead of face to face.
“We try to maintain social distancing in public and we’ve even paired up officers over the longer term to minimise the risk to officers. Obviously we can’t eradicate it completely but we can take steps to minimise it, which we have done.”
Mr Booth went on to say that the biggest criminal issue the force is facing during lockdown is domestic abuse, but that other types of crime have dropped.
He added: “That’s a major concern not just in West Yorkshire but nationally. The increase in domestic abuse is getting prioritised and when we are getting those reports we are getting safeguard teams in very quickly.
“We have seen some types of crime fall, like domestic burglary.
“We have seen a call increase where people are breaching the Covid restrictions. We are getting a lot of people snitching on their neighbours.
“And there are people who are calling to ask about the restrictions, almost asking for police permission - should I do this, should I do that?
“This is a health issue and the force are treating it as a health issue and policing around it is about trying to contain the spread."
Statistics released by the National Police Chief's Council revealed 3,203 fines were issued in England between March 27 and the April 13 for flouting the government restrictions.
Calls to 999 are down by 14 per cent according to the statistics, with a 13 per cent drop in 101 calls.
Many more people are reporting online during the lockdown measures – a 61 per cent increase.
Fines for breaches of government public health regulations issued by police officers in England and Wales equate to less than 0.01 per cent of the eligible population in England and Wales.
On March 26, the Government announced new public health regulations to reduce the spread of coronavirus. These measures entitled officers to issue individuals with £60 fines if they failed to comply after officers had engaged with them, explained the risks to public health and encouraged voluntary compliance.
Engage, explain, encourage
Mr Booth added: “Our policing has been driven by engage, explain, encourage, before you go to enforcement.
“I have seen the league tables released today which puts West Yorkshire 9th in the country for enforcement tickets with about 70-odd.
“A lot of these are people who were caught on other offences and shouldn’t have been out anyway.
“We are not just targeting decent members of the public.
“There are a small proportion who will flout it and push the boundaries.”
“Initially the messaging around this was that it was about protecting older people and those with underlying health conditions but as we have seen it doesn’t just affect them, it can affect everyone.
“We have a silent killer in our communities and in some ways members of the public calling us for reassurance are right to do so because they are calling us when they feel threatened.”
Mr Booth also spoke about reports of cannabis use during lockdown, adding: "Looking at the offences and the offender’s profile, everyone has a line in the sand.
“Cannabis is illegal and police are right to enforce the law.
“If I was a sergeant on shift, it wouldn’t be a priority on my watch but that’s not to promote it. It’s illegal, end of story.
“But also, trying to allay some of the fears that the public have, we are not out to get you and we are not needlessly enforcing the law. We are here to help you.”
Mr Booth added that there had been an increase in assaults on police and emergency workers in general, citing a recent case in Halifax in which a man coughed on police and told them he had coronavirus, which resulted in a speedy conviction and a 12-week jail sentence.
He said: “We are seeing a spike in spitting and coughing at officers and threatening them with Covid.
“The fact is, guidance has been put out nationally around sentencing in court and Protect the Protectors.
“If you do assault a police officer or an emergency worker, your case will be fast tracked and if you end up in court you will likely go to prison.
“These people aren’t just the kind of people who assault police, they are the kind of people who assault everyone.”
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