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Saturday, April 11, 2020

Overzealous police forces are undermining lockdown

Already this week we have seen video of a police officer instructing a man that he and his family are not allowed to play in their own front garden, people doing yoga in local parks being told to go home, socially-isolating families being ordered off beaches even though they are within walking distance of their homes, Cambridgeshire police telling people what they can and cannot buy in supermarkets and Northamptonshire Police saying they might set up roadblocks and could start searching shopping trolleys.

What is worse is that some of these police forces do not understand irony. Hours before Cambridgeshire police tweeted about the “non-essential aisles”, they had tweeted messages of thanks for chocolate gifts members of the public had given them – presumably bought from shops during lockdown.

All of these actions have a basic purpose, to keep people safe, and in some instances may be perfectly justified, but as a whole the picture being painted is that of a government giving police officers unprecedented powers for a democratic society, and then those powers being abused by overzealous officers.

This has led to the remarkable sight of Home Secretary, Priti Patel emerging from self-imposed exile to chastise officers for “heavy handed” measures such as roadblocks and searching trolleys to enforce coronavirus restrictions because they are "not appropriate".

And then. as the Independent reported yesterday, Number 10 Downing Street has had to step in as well to confirm that shops currently permitted to open are allowed to sell whatever they have in stock.

There is little doubt that a significant minority continue to flout regulations regarding travel, self-isolating and social distancing, and that police are needed to help enforce that regime. However, the sort of heavy handed responses I have just alluded to only serve to undermine goodwill, and entrench people's resistance.

We are all in this for the long-term, surely it is time that some of these police forces allowed a little leeway where there is minimal risk from doing so.
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