Police and Crime Commissioner’s office scrutinises Covid lockdown fines
These have been incredibly unusual times, with police forces taking responsibility for something none of us ever thought we would see in this country.
Officers have had to enforce a lockdown put in place to make sure the Covid-19 virus does not spread, to make sure we can all protect the NHS and save lives.
Here in Dorset, the approach has been based around engaging with and educating the public – only using enforcement measures as a last resort. As a result of this, only 255 on the spot fines, or fixed penalty notices, were issued to the public for breaching the lockdown regulations between 27 March and 29 April.
But although we have been living through such unusual times – or perhaps because of it – it’s still vital that we continue to scrutinise the police’s actions independently.
Holding the police to account
One of the most important roles of Police and Crime Commissioners, with support from their offices, is to hold the police to account, and there are very good reasons why forces need to be scrutinised by an independent organisation.
British policing is not about force, but about drawing strength and support from those who are being policed. That is a tradition that differentiates us from many other countries – and is something of which I think we should be proud.
My office has a system in place to do this, with a series of independent scrutiny panels, made up of volunteers representing the communities of Dorset, who meet on a quarterly basis to look in detail at different aspects of the Force’s work.
During the Covid-19 crisis, it is important that the work of scrutinising the police has continued. This work also needed to be carried out as quickly as possible so any concerns could be fed back to the Force and they could fine-tune their response to the situation if possible.
I asked my office to take a detailed look at a randomly selected sample of the cases in which fixed penalty notices were issued during the lockdown.
Reassured by quality
I’m very pleased to say that we have been reassured by the quality of the decision making made by officers, and the way in which they recorded information about what happened. In other words, the vast majority of the fines we looked at were issued correctly and appropriately.
The ACRO Criminal Records office has issued national data about fines issued by Forces across the country during lockdown, and our analysis has shown that Dorset Police’s data is closely aligned with this.
It is apparent, however, that Dorset – like other tourist destinations in the UK – is experiencing a greater challenge from visitors coming here from elsewhere. This is likely to remain an issue over the coming weeks, and the way the Force responds to it will be of key importance as we move into the next phase.
The use of Covid-19 powers to issue on the spot fines to members of the public is a new process, undertaken in the strangest of times, but the job of scrutinising the police has not been put on hold because of the situation we’re living through.
Whatever happens over the next few weeks, I can assure the public that my office and I will continue to look closely at how the Force are responding to the evolving crisis.
We live in a time when, above all, it is important we all have confidence in our police. I remain assured that the work being carried out on a daily basis by Dorset Police officers, staff and volunteers has been exemplary.