As several areas of the country head back in to local lockdown, with rules varying sometimes solely by miles, police are facing new challenges on how to enforce Covid-19 regulations.
Currently, in 16 Welsh county boroughs and one town, people are only allowed to leave their area with a reasonable excuse – which includes things like shopping for essentials, to travel to and from work and to to seek medical attention.
In areas currently under a local lockdown, people are not allowed to form extended households and can only meet people they don’t live with outside.
Local lockdowns aside, some restrictions have been put in place for the whole of Wales as cases continue to rise – including mandatory facemasks and a 10.00pm curfew on alcohol sales.
But given some areas have not been places into a local lockdown – how are the regulations policed?
For example, Powys has not been placed into lockdown, meaning that two villages – geographically just a mile apart – now face radically different rules.
We asked Assistant Chief Constable Mark Travis, of South Wales Police, how local lockdowns are being managed.
With all of the South Wales Police’s area in local lockdowns, are you noticing a difference in how people in different areas are reacting to this? Especially in more populated areas like Cardiff and Swansea?
“I think we’ve seen a consistent response from all communities, in that people are in the main working really hard to support us and doing a great job in following the rules.
“I think it would be fair to say in more urban areas, perhaps Cardiff and Swansea, we see more of a night time economy so we have to put more emphasis in working with our partners to check that licenced premises are following the rules.
“But I wouldn’t say that people are behaving differently. Different communities have a different configuration so we have to respond differently from a policing point of view.”
There’s been quite a lot of criticism of the 10pm curfew, suggesting that it will mean a lot of people out on the streets at the same time or moving on to continue inside people’s homes – how you would respond to that?
“This was new to us and we weren’t quite sure how this would actually evolve. What we’ve seen is that people have got used to it very quickly. Licensed premises work to the regulations and it’s actually reduced the night time economy towards the end of the evening which is really important at the moment as it releases resources towards key areas of vulnerability.
“From our point of view, we do accept that it’s been challenging to understand but now it is in place it has been effective and it’s helped us to be able to manage during our periods of peak.
“But I do understand and do appreciate that this does have an impact on people’s lifestyle.”
And how exactly is the curfew being policed? If it comes to 10pm and it’s clear that there’s a lot of people in the streets or moving their party to somebody’s home, then how do police deal with that?
“We need to remember that current rules allow certain people to be outside if they are socially distanced, so a large crowd can actually be there and can be lawful.
“So what we do is we engage with people, we explain to people and we encourage people to follow rules and regulations.
“If they don’t then we move to the fourth phase which is enforcement. This is our least preferred option but if necessary we can issue fixed penalty tickets.
“What we tend to find is that people are very reasonable and when we are speaking to them we find they will work with us.
“There have been a limited number of house parties that we have attended and dealt with, and the consequence of this is that we record the details of people we engage with and should they come to our attention again then we will then consider moving to our enforces methods.
“The student population are a really valuable part of our community and I think we have to recognise the challenges of moving to a new area and the challenges that come with being a new student as well as the challenges of these rules.
“Universities and students themselves have been fantastic in understanding the rules. We have had some issues but no different to any other community.
“We tend to find that when we are reasonable and explain to people that if they work with us and explain that we can help to reduce the spread of the virus and the effect on people they tend to be very supportive.”
With local lockdowns, how logistically is it possible to police people traveling over the borders into other areas? We’ve seen other forces employ road side checks – is that something you would or have considered? If not then why not?
“I think the first thing is that the majority of people within the south Wales area are very clear about their geographic area – this really helps us, people are really clear about where Vale of Glamorgan sits people understand that.
“We have powers under the Road Traffic Act to stop vehicles for a number of reasons and we will engage with drivers and speak to drivers as part of that to seek to try and understand their reason – and whether or not they have a legitimate reason for travelling.
“At the moment we don’t carry out road side checks. That’s not to say it’s wrong, we just find that the means we are using at the moment is entirely appropriate and suits the road network we have and the way we operate from a policing point of view. Other rural areas or fast roads might require different policing tactics.
“At the moment it’s not something we’re considering and not something we feel we need to do at the moment. Our emphasis is on the greatest risk at the moment to spreading the virus is in relation to familial contact and friend contact.
“Though we are carrying out activity around our border and the amount of people travelling through we are actually finding that this has got quite a high level of compliance and support so we’re investing our resources into the night time economy, areas with high footfall and responding to public concerns about compliance.”
During the last full lockdown, there seemed to be a much larger police presence – both on foot patrols and also on roads – how are these local lockdowns being policed compared to that?
“We have an increased number of officers working in terms of the night time economy, the fantastic support of volunteers, we’re working really close with our partners in the councils to provide additional enforcement in relation to enforceable guidance for organsations.
“We’ve got the same if not more officers out on the streets at the moment but I think what we have to say is during the first phase of the coronavirus lockdown many people were in full lockdown and weren’t travelling – so the roads were much quieter and police were very evident and stood out.”
Is there any proactive police strategy you could tell us about in managing this going forward?
“Our proactive policing strategy is based around the four Es. The first point is to engage, the second is to explain, the third is to encourage.
“Sometimes when we’re speaking to people who are breaking the rules this encourages them to work with us and modify their behaviour. Lastly we go to enforced activity.
“One of our regions visited twenty licenced premises in one night and that gave us a really good understanding of the level of support for the rules and regulations.
“One of my areas of hope is that businesses work with us, that businesses really focus on complying with coronavirus regulations and support Welsh Government.
“That will absolutely have an impact on reducing the virus – but also take pressure of the police and allow us to spend time focusing on domestic abuse, knife crime and prevention of burglary those things that are so important to the community.”