I’ve received a number of complaints from residents who feel that others are not complying with the lockdown rules.
I have had two meetings with the police in the last week. The first was with Assistant Chief Constable Dave Miller, who also leads the Sussex Resilience Forum. The second was with Sussex Chief Constable, Jo Shiner, and the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, Katy Bourne. I explained that residents were concerned that the sacrifices they are making will have to go on for even longer if others do not do likewise. I asked what the approach would be to police enforcement in the communities. I hasten to add that I do not want to see residents pulled up by the police for having a coffee whilst walking outdoors (as two women in Derbyshire were when wrongly classed as having a ‘picnic’).
I was reassured by the response from Sussex Police. They are following the national guidance. Where an individual is clearly disregarding an officer’s instructions, the police will immediately enforce. The police team stress that they are trying to strike a balance. They do not wish to be over-zealous but they are stepping up to ensure the lockdown measures are respected.
By way of example, 81 Fixed Penalty Notices were given out by the force on New Year’s Eve. Some, for those hosting parties, were as high as £10,000. Sussex Police have issued more penalty notices than almost any other force. It appears that they are up against a few who blatantly disregard the rules. Party-goers at an event billed for those who wished to catch COVID, with the aim of then being part of a herd mentality, each received a fixed penalty notice.
Sussex has the highest ratio of COVID protests. The Police are spending resources by stopping many before they can be widely publicised. Whilst it is a basic freedom of expression; the right to protest does not entitle a protestor to break the restrictions or the law.
The Police are not knocking on doors to check how many people are in a house. They are aware of boundaries and the need to continue with positive community relations. The police also understand that slips can occur. However, they will follow up complaints of restrictions and rules being breached and will take action if those responsible refuse to cease. To those who have contacted me asking if they can drive from one part of Bexhill to the seafront to walk at quiet times, the approach of the police is unlikely to interrupt your day (as it did for the two in Derbyshire with a coffee in their hand). For those who are breaching the restrictions in a blatant manner, the police will seek an explanation and, where none can be provided and the lesson is not heeded, there will be repercussions.
Sussex has many holiday homes. To questions as to what will happen for breaches, the police will deal with blatant disturbances and the local authority with the actual breach of use.
This is a hard balancing act but I believe that Sussex Police have got this balance right. I want to thank all in Sussex Police, and others who put themselves on the front-line of advice and enforcement, for the work they are doing. It not only keeps us safe but will reduce the length of the lockdown for all of us.