While the police’s intentions are noble, over-extending themselves in their interpretation of advice could prove counterproductiveby Holly Thomas / March 31, 2020 / Leave a comment
After the National Health Service, Britain’s police currently have some of the least-enviable jobs in the country. Already stretched and anticipating a huge strain in the months to come, they are among the most critical workers adapting to the unprecedented challenge presented by the coronavirus.
But there is growing concern that some overzealous members of the force might be sowing distrust by assuming extra powers, and admonishing behaviours during the lockdown which are not in breach of government legislation.
Some recent instances of police over-extending themselves are pretty benign, at face value. On Saturday, MP Stephen Kinnock tweeted a photo of himself on a garden chair on a porch, several meters away from his parents, who were sitting on their front doorstep.
The South Wales police replied to Kinnock’s tweet to say that his visit had not counted as essential travel, and that he ought to observe the government’s guidelines. Kinnock replied in turn, explaining that he had used the trip to deliver essential supplies to his elderly parents.
The tweet, which attracted considerable social media attention, highlighted an important point: that the guidance, or advice given by officials, often goes a step further than the government legislation around lockdown behaviour.
Since Kinnock’s father was well over 70, it would have been contrary to government advice for them to leave the house. Travel to provide basic necessities and supplies for the vulnerable, as in Kinnock’s case, is allowed in the legislation.
The police’s—sometimes faulty—interpretation of the advice can prompt disproportionate action against those who are not breaking the law. This has popped up in a number of areas. On Monday, the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) told the BBC that “heavy-handed” officials, including police and local councils, had been “misreading” the rules in cracking down on convenience stores selling Easter Eggs, calling them non-essential items.
The ACS told the stores to continue to sell a full range of products, as the shops themselves had already been deemed essential, and there was no official definition of what could be sold within them. Such treat-based confusion is clearly widespread—Peterborough police posted a reprimand on their Facebook page after discovering a driver with a “non-essential” chocolate bar on the passenger seat.
Exercise is another area in which abiding by…