Lifting lockdown differently across the country will be particularly challenging and could jeopardise the public’s high levels of compliance, Scotland’s police chief has warned.
Chief constable Iain Livingstone praised his force’s “phenomenal effort” responding to the coronavirus pandemic and thanked the public for their “extremely high” levels of cooperation so far during the pandemic.
Speaking at the Scottish Police Authority’s board meeting, he said he wanted the police service to be judged by whether the force has helped lower the mortality rate while “retaining and enhancing the support and trust of the people” and ensuring the safety of Police Scotland staff.
However, looking ahead to any changes in the guidance and laws, CC Livingstone said that any differentiation when it comes to the easing of lockdown measures would cause “particular challenges for policing”.
“One can imagine if there are changes in restrictions that have a differentiation — based on locality, based on sector, based on individual criteria, whether that’s age or status,” he said.
“Suddenly it gives the public and agencies such as ourselves challenges in terms of maintaining the level of consent and cooperation that we’ve seen thus far.”
Although backing Police Scotland to be able to deal with the potential challenge of different rules for different people “if we maintain the value-based approach to policing that we’ve seen in the last few weeks”, he added: “I do think it will be difficult and it will be more nuanced than we’ve seen in the early weeks, which have proved challenging.”
This message was echoed by John Scott QC, the who said that inconsistent changes to the lockdown could cause “increased confusion, greater uncertainty and an end to some of the buy in that we’ve seen from the public”.
Mr Scott, who chairs the independent advisory group looking at the police’s use of the new powers under emergency coronavirus legislation, said that more divergence of the rules for people in different parts of the country, or those of a certain age or occupation, risked undermining the current sense of unity.
“Where the vast, vast majority have recognised the legitimacy of this public health policing, it’s partly because there’s a greater sense that we’re all in it together,” he said.
“And as that changes, it will be necessary to be careful around the messaging and the sense of fairness — that we are being all being treated the same — which underpins the strong legitimacy.”
SPA board member Martyn Evans reiterated the importance of clear messaging in Scotland and said: “I rather dread to think what would have happened if we’d had multiple police services.”
CC Livingstone said he “wholeheartedly” agreed that Police Scotland was able to deal with the new emergency powers more effectively than under the previous regional model, highlighting the “consistent messaging, the consistent application and the ability to move resources very quickly”.
Asked about personal protective equipment, deputy chief constable Malcolm Graham acknowledged there had been supply and procurement challenges, but said there has not yet been a “shortfall” in the safety kit police officers have required.
“It’s possible that we will come to that in the weeks and months ahead, but at the moment the supply is keeping up with the attrition rate, the ability for us to train officers and the roll out of equipment that we’re using,” DCC Graham said.
SPA meeting papers also revealed that Police Scotland has currently spent £2m on supplies and overtime required for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, with a further £6.5m of equipment ordered.
The number of people in police custody has been “significantly down” during the Covid-19 crisis, deputy chief constable Will Kerr revealed.
DCC Kerr also said that changes during the lockdown, such as the use of virtual courts and digital evidence, have helped minimise contact and time spent in custody, and could be retained once the pandemic is over.