The parents of young adults who break coronavirus lockdown rules should be sanctioned, a senior police officer has said, amid confusion over the enforcement of new powers to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Ken Marsh, the head of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said that the parents of older teenagers should be forced to pay fines if they were caught ignoring government guidance.
On Thursday, emergency legislation granted police new powers that allow officers to issue £60 on-the-spot fines or even make arrests for breaches of the UK’s coronavirus lockdown rules.
Marsh, whose federation represents 30,000 officers in the capital, said that the new rules did not provide adequate enforcement measures where more than two teenagers had gathered and refused to follow a police instruction to go home: “We’ve got to take them home, but when we take them home, why can’t we fine their parents? Otherwise, what’s the deterrent?”
The call for tougher measures comes amid continued debate over how far police should enforce sweeping new rules after the public were told last week to leave their home only for essential shopping and exercise. On Friday, Derbyshire police were criticised after releasing drone footage of walkers at a beauty spot along with the warning that such exercise did not constitute “essential travel”.
Former justice secretary David Gauke described Derbyshire Police’s shaming of ramblers as “badly misjudged”. The Irish government this weekend announced new restrictions including a rule that all exercise must take place within 2km of people’s homes.
Cumbrian police have warned that the Lake District is closed and checkpoints have been put in place at beaches and other locations to try to stop people travelling there to walk their dogs or exercise.
The majority of the public appear to be following the social distancing guidance although police chiefs have confirmed that within 24 hours of the new powers coming into operation they had started issuing fines. No overall numbers have been released.
Officers policing London believe that the weekend will provide a better indication of whether the public will abide by the lockdown measures.
Marsh said: “This weekend will be the acid test, particularly if the weather is nice. The public need to come with us on this one because we police by consent. In a European country it’s very easy because they can point a gun in their face, we can’t do that. You’ve got to cajole, educate.”
He said that enforcing the measures could be “very challenging” particularly if officers had to arrest a person who refused to comply with the coronavirus measures, while following the government’s guidance to stay two metres away from other people: “Its going to be very challenging if they turn around and say: ‘Bugger off’ because, firstly, we’re meant to be two metres from them.”
Every force in England and Wales has drawn up contingency measures for coping with absentees as large numbers of officers report sick or self-isolate. March said that the Met had 3,600 officers off sick – 12% of its total workforce, although officers were returning to the frontline when they recovered.
He warned that the capital could become difficult to police in “three to four days” if there were a sharp downturn in officer availability owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
The UK’s relatively hands-off approach to policing the coronavirus crisis differs markedly from some other countries. South African police, for example, yesterday fired rubber bullets on hundreds of shoppers queueing outside a supermarket in Johannesburg.