Who enforces the law?
I was made to think about this last week when broadcasters and journalists asked me to comment on the new requirements for wearing face masks in shops. Who should ensure that we did it?
The story they were pursuing – for which there was very little evidence – was that many people would flout the law and shopkeepers would be for ever sending for the police. Some shop keepers were interviewed who said as much, and believed it was not fair to ask them to do ‘what the police should be doing’.
The reality is that the law is enforced every day first by each one of us. We enforce the law by complying with it. If we all ‘took the law into our own hands’, any kind of normal life would be impossible. And by complying we put social pressure on our neighbours to do the same.
But we do have to be convinced that the law makes sense and sometimes it takes time for us to accept that. Wearing seat belts in cars is an example. When the law first came in, I recall how scornful some people were: An infringement of my liberty. What is the evidence? (‘Clunk click every trip’ was the mantra – in TV ads fronted by Jimmy Saville.) Overtime we were convinced, probably because the evidence began to accumulate of how horrific injuries in vehicle collisions could be lessened by wearing a seat belt.
The trouble with face coverings is that there is no time to conduct random control testing and so the evidence is not there. What the government is doing – and probably should have been doing before, since they applied the same principle sometime ago to travelling on public transport – is taking a precautionary view.
What about day to day enforcement in shops? I heard some shopkeepers saying they couldn’t be expected to enforce the law that was for the police. In fact, shopkeepers have been enforcing the law ever since social distancing came in. My local shops have evolved ways of keeping people 6ft apart – signs in the widow, restriction on the number of people who come in, a one-way system. And as far as I can see, this has worked. I can’t see why face coverings will be any different. The police only need to be involved if a situation arises where someone creates a major row which the shop can’t handle alone. But there is nothing new about that.
So who enforces the law? We do in the first instance by willingly complying – which puts pressure on those around us to do the same. Then the shopkeepers with clear notices and signage. The police are the last resort. But that is no different from how it always is.
What helps is clear and consistent messaging from the government and a greater transparency around what is ‘science’ and what is precaution.
When the police get it right, we should tell them
The District Commander for Sheffield, Chief Superintendent Stuart Barton, was sent this email on Friday evening and I was copied in:
“l was at Endcliffe Park with friends this evening. An unauthorised rave began. The police arrived in a low key manner & were incredibly professional in their approach. A young man was taken away by an ambulance crew who were assisted by the police. The sound system was removed. That this did not cause a riot by the attendees tells you how cool your officers were. An alleged drug dealer was taken away by officers. Again no fuss.
“This could have been a PR disaster. This could gave been a riot with so many young people gathered for an evening out. lt was neither. Your officers were low key, professional & sorted what could have been an ugly scene.
“Please tell your officers how impressed l & others were this evening.”
I am happy to share this with people beyond the force.
(Chief Superintendent Barton retires next month. He has been tireless in his work to improve policing in Sheffield and we wish him well.)
A life in the week of the PCC
Last week I either chaired or attended these meetings via these remote systems (most of the meetings are for two hours):
09:00 Meeting with the Chief Constable and Senior Command Team, looking at recent crime and anti-social behaviour across the county. Were new patterns emerging as restrictions are eased? (Skype)
14:00 Police and Crime Panel. The Panel hold me to account and quiz me on all my decisions. (Microsoft Teams)
10:00 Chairing the Violence Reduction Unit Executive Board. Bringing together all the partner agencies that are helping with violence preventative measures across South Yorkshire. (Microsoft Teams)
10:00 Fire and Rescue Service stakeholders meeting. (Microsoft Teams)
14:00 National Anti-trafficking and Modern Slavery Network (Zoom)
10:00 Speaking at webinar on Policing and Racism. Organised by Policy Exchange Think Tank. (Skype)
14:00 Chairing County-wide Community Safety Forum. Meeting of the chairs of the district community safety partnerships for Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield. Looking at all aspects of keeping people safe. (Skype)
10:00 Interview with ITV Calendar about face covering in shops and police role. (Skype)
10:30 Interview with BBC Look North. (Zoom)
14:00 Chairing Local Criminal Justice Board, looking at the way local agencies are seeking to work with social distancing – such as the courts. (Telephone conference call
I hope you are staying safe and well.