A senior police officer says complaints about the way the North Yorkshire force has dealt with policing the lockdown have largely been directed at him.
Speaking at the North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime panel meeting yesterday (Thursday), Superintendent Mike Walker said the force had faced “intense scrutiny” for its approach to policing the pandemic – particularly true when it carried out border checks in December.
There had been an increase in complaints, said Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan – but an increasing number of compliments too.
Many of the complaints had come from people who went against guidance and travelled from Tier 3 areas into York and North Yorkshire. Some had come from MPs which she described as “challenging”.
There was no law to stop people entering North Yorkshire (then in Tier 2) from West and East Yorkshire (then in Tier 3). It was only government guidance.
Supt Walker said: “December was very difficult.
“And luckily, most of the commissioner’s complaints had my name on them anyway, so she doesn’t have to go far to find who to deal with.”
Turn guidance into law
Supt Walker said he was frustrated by some of the media coverage. He had received letters from Liberal Democrat peer and former Sheffield council leader Lord Scriven and Big Brother Watch asking why he had been trying to enforce guidance rather than actual law.
(Editor’s Note: There was an update to this part of the story released in February which you can read at YorkMix here)
People needed to stick to their own tier rules otherwise they risked ‘bringing the virus with them’, he said.
He said: “North Yorkshire Police were trying to tell people that guidance was intrinsically linked to the regulations that we can police against.
“Particularly in York we issued lots of penalty notices to people from tier 3 areas, who were coming in from those tier 3 areas and then meeting up socially, so they were breaching their own restrictions from their area.”
The fact that the travel policy was only guidance did not help police, Supt Walker said.
The force will be sending evidence to the National Police Council and the government to recommend that messages to the public are made clearer to make policing easier, should the tier system return after lockdown.
“We want to persuade whoever it is, the Home Office, the Cabinet Office, public health, whoever it is making the decisions over tiering that it must be stronger to not allow people to travel from high infection rate areas to North Yorkshire and the city of York.”
Put back the fear
He told the meeting that every fixed penalty that was issued would be looked at carefully to make sure it was issued for the right offence code and was proportionate.
If it wasn’t, he said, then the ticket would be cancelled. The police do sometimes get it wrong and they are committed to rectifying that quickly when that happens, he said.
He clearly feels that there is a lot of public support for the way the force has dealt with the pandemic so far and he wants to carry on with a proportionate response in order to keep the public on board.
Supt Walker said fear over Covid-19 was much higher among the public during the first lockdown.
He said: “That fear needs to be put back into the public. It’s not ideal that we want to put fear into the communities, but they really need to understand the risk that’s associated to them.
“It’s sad to see there isn’t as much compliance as last time.”