‘If the Prime Minister can’t get it right, what hope have the rest of us got!’
That was how someone put it to me after the last set of local coronavirus restrictions were announced for the North East, and many others have said the same.
Mind you, it has not always been easy to keep up with the national rules as we made the journey from complete lock-down to the Rule of Six with various iterations in between. My office had been preparing to return after working from home since the end of March, but all is changed again. Now we are faced with the prospect of a patchwork of local restrictions across the country. No wonder people become confused and fatigued.
One group of people who cannot afford to get this wrong are the police. They have to enforce the law. But they need to do it in a way which does not alienate them from the public they are seeking to serve. This is why the force has followed the four E’s approach. They first seek to Engage with people who may not be observing the restrictions, then to Educate and Encourage them to behave correctly, only Enforcing the law if they believe people are being wilful and reckless.
So far this has worked as well as one could hope. The police have, by and large, kept the trust and confidence of the public. But, as I have repeatedly argued in these blogs, policing by consent in the circumstances of coronavirus crucially depends on governing by consent. People have to be able to trust the government.
There are two situations in which this might change very quickly.
First, if local restrictions are imposed in some parts of South Yorkshire and not others, that has the potential to create confusion for the public, not least if people live in one place, work in another and have family or friends in a third. That will need very careful messaging and to do that well all the authorities – councils and police – as well as businesses and schools will need as much warning as possible. Too many of these rule changes have been imposed with little or no advance notice to police or local authorities, and on at least one occasion by social media late at night. You need time to get the messaging in place and understood.
Second, the trust and confidence of the public in the police will remain as long as what we are asked to do by government, and what the force is asked to enforce, makes sense to us. If we understand what the overall government strategy is, and how any new rules fit in with that, the public will support the police as they seek to gain compliance.
Yet this is the area where at the moment the government seems to struggle. They tend to make the case only in terms of following ‘the science’. But we know that these decisions are not just about ‘the science’. They cannot be: science alone cannot tell you what to do. Decisions are made after taking into account a mix of factors: the science around the behaviour of the virus; the very different ‘science’ around how people behave when certain restrictions are imposed; and a judgment about how far you can let the economy suffer for the sake of health needs and vice versa.
What we don’t always know is quite how the government is calibrating that difficult balance. What is the science and/or other calculation that produces the Rule of Six and the 10pm curfew, for example? We need the government to level with us more as we face fresh outbreaks. Otherwise, asking the police to break into private homes to enforce the rules – if that is where we are heading – may be a step too far.
Prioritising Domestic Abuse
During the period of lockdown we were concerned about what was happening to those who had become victims of domestic abuse (DA). How were they faring as a result of being confined to the house with an abusive partner? What about the children? We gave financial help to organisations that support victims and the police took steps to enable victims to make contact surreptitiously – through the internet and with silent calls to the emergency number.
Now the Violence Reduction Unit is making the prevention of DA one of its priorities for the present financial year. We are funding groups across South Yorkshire who are working to prevent or reduce abuse in domestic settings.
Initially we made £190,000 available, but were overwhelmed with 40 applications for grants that came to £760,000. So we have increased the original pot of money to £200,000 and a small panel – which included local authority domestic abuse leads – has now awarded grants to 13 projects.
The projects are very diverse, though many have a focus on younger people. In2Change, for example, will seek to change the attitudes of young people who are already showing signs of aggressive behaviour that may lead to future negative relationships, including domestic violence. There is funding for a women’s refuge to help their work with the children and for a project working with the Roma community in Doncaster to develop children’s understanding of what healthy relationships look like.
Domestic abuse lay hidden for decades. We now recognise it as a major issue for our society. The Violence Reduction Unit brings together a wide range of partners to reduce it, not least by seeking to prevent it in the first place.
Surely not ….
I am writing this against the backdrop of breaking news about the American President having coronavirus. A spokesperson for the President says that he was been taken to the Walter Reed Military Hospital as ‘a precautionary measure’.
I may be mistaken, but I thought wearing masks, social distancing and not holding large public gatherings were the precautionary measures.
One hears the sound of stable doors being bolted.
I hope you are staying safe and well.