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If you don't heed the government's advice steps could be taken to clamp down on selfishness

Police dispersing a large group in Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester city centre
Police dispersing a large group in Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester city centre

The word unprecedented is often used to describe the severity of the current crisis we all face.

Change has been more rapid than any of us could ever have expected in our lifetime.

Police officers are part of the fabric of society and none of us wanted the Prime Minister’s drastic measures to become reality, but difficult choices have had to be made to stop the spread of COVID-19.  

This has resulted in unprecedented changes to our laws to address the seriousness of the situation.

The nature of policing is changing dramatically. We have left what could be called ‘business as usual’ and are dealing with new laws to help stem the spread of this pandemic.

Police officers patrol the streets daily based on consent. The public are the police and the police are the public and rely on the generosity, decency and support of the communities we serve.

This relationship cannot be allowed to break down under the strain of this virus.  We all have a moral duty to uphold the rule of law and look out for each other.

We’ve seen government stepping up to the mark on a daily basis and tackling COVID-19 head on. Home Secretary Priti Patel has also been particularly supportive. But there is a real threat we are moving towards even more additional emergency powers if people do not heed the advice to stay at home.

To avoid this, we require the public to help us and our other emergency service colleagues by listening to the latest advice and adhering to it.

This will allow police officers to concentrate on keeping the public safe and deal with the response to COVID-19 as best we can.

These short-term changes to the freedoms we usually enjoy will save lives and will support the sterling work being done by the NHS during this difficult time, as well as helping my hard working colleagues too.

The practicalities of policing a lockdown are enormously challenging. But I can assure you, police officers will tirelessly do all they can to keep the public safe.

We never turn our backs on anyone. But because of the scale of the pandemic it will be difficult, so I would urge everyone to help us and follow the government’s advice.

I know most of the public will heed the advice and stay at home. But the new legislation will put in place plans to deal with those who do not. We will not tolerate irresponsible and potentially life-threatening behaviour.

The Prime Minister’s instructions were a plea for us all to act and to help each other. While the police service will play its part, individuals need to self-police themselves, their friends and family.

My colleagues will certainly be involved when there are groups of people behaving irresponsibly. This will be hugely challenging but we will continue to conduct ourselves compassionately and professionally.

I say this directly to the public. If you don’t heed this government’s advice, then it is likely further steps may need to be taken; further laws and emergency legislation could be introduced to clamp down harder on selfishness in the face of the fight against this virus. This is about saving lives.

None of us wants new, harsher measures. I have been a police officer for over 27 years, and it is the last thing I want. But either the public heeds the Prime Minister’s warning and stays at home, or the fight against COVID-19 will be longer and more will likely be affected.

From my experience as a police officer, I know the public do not wish this to happen. So, I ask everybody to be responsible and to remain indoors.

 

 John Apter is chair of the police federation in England and Wales