Northern Ireland news

Police Federation calls for more powers to enforce Covid stay at home legislation

People are being asked to stay at home to curb the spread of Covid-19

The Police Federation for Northern Ireland has called for tougher coronavirus regulations to help officers enforce them.

Chairman Mark Lindsay said officers need the authority to order people home instead of just issuing guidance.

"Officers say that guidance needs to be strengthened and placed into tougher regulations," he said.

"Only then will officers be able to order people to return to their homes or run the risk of a fixed penalty notice. Only then will officers have the backing of law to support the actions they take on the roadside or elsewhere.

"It beggars belief that some people wilfully ignore the advice that's offered. However, they're not breaking any law when they thank officers for the guidance they are offered and plough on regardless.

"For the minority who flout the guidance, the police must be given full enforcement powers to order them to do what they should be doing anyway, and that is staying at home and not leaving the house unless for permitted activities.

"For as long as we don't see guidance turned into regulation, we will have abuses."

PSNI assistant chief constable Alan Todd has expressed concern at the number of house parties continuing to take place during lockdown.

Mr Todd said gatherings in private dwellings remained the key concern of public health experts and, as a consequence, was the main focus of police efforts to enforce coronavirus regulations.

The senior officer also insisted officers did have the power under the regulations to enter properties to ascertain whether breaches had occurred, so long as their actions were necessary and proportionate.

"Our biggest concern as a police service reflects the biggest concern from the senior medical advisers, and that is house parties and house gatherings in breach of the regulations where large numbers of people, meeting indoors, with alcohol for prolonged periods of time, creates a significant infection risk," he said.

Mr Todd added: "The house gathering piece is a keen focus for us, because that's what we've been advised is the key priority for the medical health advisers."

Mr Todd said generally there had been "very high" rates of compliance with new laws making it a legal requirement to stay at home in all but a limited set of circumstances.

"We have been performing a lot of policing patrols and policing operations across the weekend, engaging with the public, that's been really positive," he said.

"The vast, vast majority of those interactions have been really positive and well received by the public. As ever, of course, there'll be a small number of people who choose not to adhere to the regulations and, regrettably, we have had to issue some penalties in that space too."

Police issued 168 fines over Friday, Saturday and Sunday - mostly for individuals in respect of illegal house parties.

"Where people are deliberately flouting or deliberately breaching or recklessly doing so, they can reasonably expect to be penalised," said ACC Todd.

"Again those are very small numbers, the vast majority of people are doing the right thing. But there will always be those small number of people who don't wish to do so."

He added: "I think what the public can expect to see in the coming weeks are more police, in more places, more of the time.

"That'll be a combination of road checks on key routes, with specifically-tasked resources to that, we're also protecting the resources in local neighbourhood teams, so they can expect to see the local neighbourhood policing teams police their area as well."

Mr Todd said greater use of overtime spend was helping the police to navigate the impact of the virus on the PSNI's workforce.

He said between eight per cent and 10% of officers were away from frontline duty as a result of positive Covid-19 tests or self-isolation requirements.

"It's not an insignificant impact on our available resource, which is why we've been required to reprioritise some of our taskings and spend additional amount of our budget in supporting our frontline capability," said the senior officer.

The ACC said lockdown had seen a reduction in some forms of crime, giving the PSNI some flexibility to divert resources to enforcing Covid-19 regulations.

"It's a testing time for policing, as it is for all of our emergency service colleagues, but we continue to put our efforts, our resources, into that space to keep people safe, protect the health service and save lives," he added.

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