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Chief Constable Praises Surrey Residents For Low Level of Pandemic Breaches

Published on: 11 Nov, 2020
Updated on: 12 Nov, 2020

Chief Constable Gavin Stephens

By Julia Armstrong

local democracy reporter

Surrey Chief Constable Gavin Stephens has expressed gratitude for “bucketloads of empathy” in the community fight against coronavirus.

Since the March 23 first lockdown, the force has issued 520 fixed penalty notices for breaking pandemic regulations.

Only three were for breaching self-isolation, including a parent whose child did not quarantine and someone arriving from abroad.

Officers have not yet had to use their largest fine of £10,000, reserved for anyone holding huge parties.

CC Stephens said: “Apart from the odd sort of student party we haven’t seen unlicensed music events in Surrey, we haven’t seen mass gatherings, and that really helps.

Six £200 tickets were issued over the weekend after the second lockdown started.

One was to someone travelling from outside the county and others to men all aged between 22 to 35, with “no reasonable excuse for being out and about”. Three were suspected of poaching, at the Clacket Lane services on Friday evening.

The rule of six has, until December 2, been replaced by the rule of two, and Mr Stephens said: “You can expect officers on patrol to engage with you to find out why you’re out and about.”

But despite hundreds of calls made to police about Covid breaches, he said: “Surrey residents, including students, are 99% of the time being responsible.

“We’ve seen really, really high levels of compliance. I’m ever so grateful and I’m confident that will continue to be the case.

“Only in rare exceptions are we having to take enforcement action, where people have got a blatant disregard for the safety of others.”

Police have discretion and issued the £200 tickets only where people refused to follow officers’ instructions to return home.

His personal view was that “you cannot enforce your way out of a health situation” but need to “engender that sense of collective responsibility”.

He added: “If we set up factions and divisions, conflict and tensions, that will not help us in the short or long term.”

Mr Stephens said the public fatigue reported nationally was not being seen in Surrey and suggested there was a lot of empathy.

“Many people have experienced bereavement and know what that feels like now. Many people have seen how difficult it is to do home-schooling and feel an enormous debt of gratitude to teachers.

“Many people have seen the sacrifices our retail staff have made in supermarkets to keep us all stocked and supplied when frankly, in the first wave, lots of us behaved really badly, panic-buying.

“So although on the face of it you might see different behaviours, I don’t think that empathy and understanding and compassion has gone from our communities, I think it’s there in bucketloads.”

He said compliance reduced officers’ exposure to the virus, which meant staffing levels remained “very good”, although no figures were given.

Mr Stephens added: “It means we can concentrate on all the other crime and disorder and mental health issues we’re having to cover.”

Overall demand for policing has gone down during the pandemic, including a 37.5% reduction in house burglaries since the start of April, compared to the similar period last year.

But there has been a noticeable increase in mental health incidents since April, with a 73% increase in Section 136 orders detaining people under the Mental Health Act.

Other increases include domestic abuse and, with people spending more time on their computers, fraud and cyber-crime.

Since entering Lockdown One, referrals to the Paedophile Online Investigation Team (POLIT) have increased by 19%, compared to the similar period last year. But there were 103 fewer reports of child abuse, a decline of 12%.

Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Ali Barlow said: “During the first lockdown, children were subject to increased tensions within the family and increased exposure to domestic abuse and abuse of alcohol and drugs. The dynamics are different in the second lockdown because children are still going to school.

“We also believe child abuse did increase during the first lockdown but wasn’t reported so wasn’t reflected in the crime figures.

“We urge anyone who suspects a child being at risk of abuse or online or external exploitation to report it to us straight away. We do not want children to suffer in silence.”

Surrey Police have been given about £388,000 from the government to spend on additional resources during the second lockdown. Mr Stephens welcomed this but said “that sort of money goes quite quickly”.

People can report lockdown breaches on an online form monitored 24/7 https://www.surrey.police.uk/tua/tell-us-about/c19/tell-us-about-possible-breach-coronavirus-measures/

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