More police officers in England will be on dedicated patrols to enforce the government’s CCP virus restrictions, a police chief said on Tuesday during a televised press conference with Home Secretary Priti Patel.
Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chief Council, said that the majority of the population have been complying with the rules while “a stubborn number of people have refused to abide by the regulations.”
Hewitt said he makes “no apology” for the almost 45,000 fixed penalty notices (FPN) that have been issued so far.
“At this critical time we will have more officers out on dedicated patrols to take action against the small few who are letting us all down,” he said.
“And let’s remember, each of those officers is putting themselves at risk in order to keep people safe and to slow the spread of this disease.”
Patel also emphasised that police officers are risking their own lives since they often can’t enforce laws while socially distanced.
The police officers will enforce the regulations if people don’t play their part, Patel said. “And I will back them to do so.”
Hewitt cited a few examples of the circumstances in which the police had issued FPNs, including a boat party with 40 people, a minibus full of people driving three hours for a walk, and an organiser of a party trying to claim it was a business event.
England has been under its third national lockdown since Jan. 6. People have been told to stay at home “except where necessary.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Monday told people to not push the boundaries around exercise after confusion over the rule had caused a controversy.
According to government guidance, two people from different households can exercise outdoors together while 2 metres apart. But exercise is limited to once a day and people should not travel outside their local area.
On Jan. 6, two women who both live near the border between Derbyshire and Leicestershire were issued with a £200 ($270) FPN each when they drove 5 miles in separate cars to their neighbouring county for a socially distanced walk.
After a review, Derbyshire police withdrew the FPNs and apologised to the pair on Tuesday, hours after news outlets reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was spotted on Sunday cycling with his security 7 miles from his home at No. 10 Downing Street.
Hewitt said that some officers have made wrong decisions when enforcing the regulations, but he thought the police officers in general have done well considering they’re treading “unprecedented territory” when dealing with health regulations that are “highly unusual”.
“Sometimes mistakes will be made, but we always have looked at those … and we have said when we’ve got something wrong,” he said. “And I think that’s been a really important part of how we’ve dealt with this really difficult 10 months and undoubtedly for some time to come.”
He told Sky News on Wednesday morning that the government “will keep them [restrictions] in place as long as they are necessary.”