Unprecedented times for our communities

Jerry Herbert

These are unprecedented times for all our communities as we struggle with the implications of the global Coronavirus pandemic.

Nationally, our political leaders have directed us to stay at home, less for essential purposes. The police have been given additional powers to enforce this through legislation, principally through the use of fixed penalty notices.

Across Wiltshire and Swindon the vast majority of the public have heeded the Government's  guidance and complied with the rules and we have heard that this has helped to reduce the spread of the virus. But there are a very small number of individuals who have deliberately chosen to flout these regulations. In doing so they put themselves and other members of their communities at risk.

Wiltshire Police can and will enforce the legislation where necessary. But enforcement will always be a last resort. Officers will always Engage with members of the public who may not be following the guidance, Explain the legislation and Encourage people to return home. This approach has worked well so far and allows for genuine reasons to be out, and honest mistakes to be differentiated from those who are behaving recklessly.

The Force has also established a scrutiny process to examine every fixed penalty notice issued. The first check is for the lawfulness of the notice. A very small number of notices have been rescinded, particularly in cases where individuals have been charged with a more serious offence as a result of the incident.

A second scrutiny process then reviews the circumstances of each report, to identify whether there are trends emerging; whether there is a need to clarify guidance to officers and to ensure the fairness of the process. I attend these panels on behalf of communities across Swindon and Wiltshire to ensure that the Force is being held to account for the exercise of these powers in these difficult times.

I'm delighted to report that the vast number of cases that Wiltshire Police has dealt with are very clearly in line with all of the guidance that has been issued. In a very small number of cases, the panel has asked for further information about specific aspects of incidents, in order that it can be satisfied that the issue of a notice was the right action in the circumstances.

This process allows me to represent all of our communities in overseeing the exercise of the powers, so that we may all have confidence in the way in which our Police Force is upholding the law in these unprecedented circumstances. I shall continue to do so whilst the current lockdown remains in force and the legislation remains extant.

Last week we published the first Summary Overview of Fixed Penalty Notices related to Covid-19 on both the PCC and Force websites. We shall continue to do so regularly, and I will also ensure that this information is discussed at our Independent Advisory Groups and, in due course, to local governance meetings such as Area Boards and Town and Parish Councils. This is a level of transparency which we feel is absolutely appropriate in the current climate and where Wiltshire's lead is being taken up by other Police and Crime Commissioners and other Forces across the country.

In the meantime, please do continue to observe the guidance, including any adjustments that may be made to them, in order to play your part in the national effort to tackle the Coronavirus pandemic.