The coronavirus is a novel, rapidly-spreading virus which brings unprecedented changes on a daily basis.
While many have been forced out of work, police officers across the country remain committed to protecting the public.
During this unsettling time, there will be many questions regarding how the police is functioning to fulfil their common duties, while also managing the spread of COVID-19.
And with the country facing exceptional circumstances, people are also likely to have uncertainties regarding the new restrictions in place while the UK is in lockdown.
To help ease any anxieties and ensure the public adhere to government direction, the Police Service Of Northern Ireland has answered 4 frequently asked questions.
Any amendments to legislation around sunbathing; gathering in parks; at the beach (everything we anticipate the general public to do this coming Easter weekend?
The legislation is already clear-cut. The new health care regulations allow you to leave home and travel only if is necessary.
Driving to go for exercise is not a necessity and is entirely in contradiction of the advice of the Chief Medical Officer and the Health Service who want you to stay at home to protect the Health Service and save lives. It is the assessment of the Police Service that it is also a breach of the restrictions. Simply, the restrictions require you to have a reasonable excuse to have a need to leave home, it’s not just a reason, but a need and I see no need for anybody to drive miles in order to take their daily exercise so that would put you in breach of the restrictions. We will engage with you, we will explain that to you and advise you to go home and if you choose not to take that advice we will use enforcement by way of fines.”
Will we now move to enforcement?
The message is clear. Stay at home. I appreciate, as do my officers and staff that this is traditionally a busy weekend when people would visit family, attend services or visit resorts or beauty spots however we have to remember, as has been said time and time again, that this is a health crisis not a holiday. We need to behave differently. This battle against the virus is a marathon and not a sprint. I have been really pleased and proud to see how the health service has stepped up as well as the response from blue light colleagues and people in society. We have seen a lot of good will. We have also seen however evidence that a lot of people still are not taking the advice to stay at home, not heeding our three Es – Engage, Explain and Encourage – and we have now issued almost 100 Community Resolution Notices directing people to behave differently.
Tomorrow we will be stepping up again. You will see more police patrols and checkpoints across Northern Ireland for example at beauty spots, on roads going to key resorts to actually talk to motorists and ask them to explain why they are going about their journey. If you don’t have a reasonable explanation, we will turn you back. And if you don’t listen to that advice we will issue a Fixed Penalty Notice.
Exercise and wellbeing are of course important however I have a simple plea – start your exercise at your front door. Stay at home. You’re not stuck indoors, you’re actually saving lives by being inside.”
Police Service NI’s power of arrest for persistent non-compliance in the new legislation
“There are no powers of arrest contained within the new legislation, however officers may have a power to arrest for such matters of obstruction of a police officer in due execution of their duty, if absolutely necessary. Under the new legislation if a person commits an offence of failing to comply with a direction or restriction imposed on them without reasonable excuse, officers can consider an appropriate disposal. That may initially be advice and guidance or a Community Resolution Notice (CRN). However, if required Police can enforce this legislation and issue a penalty notice of £60. In the first instance this is not a criminal offence – the Police do not want to criminalise people, we simply want to ensure that people follow the regulations.
“For those who continue to disregard the NI Executive directions, the fine can be doubled each time and summary prosecution can be sought for those who refuse to pay or comply. The £60 fine can fall to £30 if paid within 14 days. If a person has already received a fixed penalty notice, the amount will increase to £120 and double on each further repeat offence.
“We will continue with the engage, explain, encourage strategy and if you don’t have a reasonable explanation, we will turn you back. And if you don’t listen to that advice we will issue a Fixed Penalty Notice.
There are of course other circumstances which could arise which may lead to arrest if people obstruct a police officer.”
How many fines has your force issued in relation to the Covid 19 regulations?
The PSNI have issued a total of nearly 100 Community Resolution Notices to people in a number of parts of Northern Ireland. While we will endeavour to keep all media updated on a regular basis and provide an overview we are not planning to provide details of every location where a CRN has been issued. No Fixed Penalty Notices have been issued as yet. We will continue to monitor the effectiveness of our approach and will keep it under review as we go forward.
Does Police Service NI have the power to enforce the closure of privately run caravan parks?
Police have received a small number of complaints regarding caravan use.
Regulation 4 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 states that:
A person responsible for carrying on a business consisting of the provision of holiday accommodation, including a campsite or caravan park, must cease to carry on that business during the emergency period.
There are exemptions to this regulation, which are:
o if the accommodation is provided for any person who-
o is unable to return to their main residence;
o uses that accommodation as their main residence;
o needs accommodation while moving house;
o needs accommodation to attend a funeral;
o to provide accommodation or support services for the homeless,
o to host blood donation sessions, or
o for any purpose requested by any Northern Ireland department, the Regional Agency, a health and social care trust or a district council.
Where a site is found to be breaching the regulations police will in the first instance ask the business owner to close. There is however a power for police and any person designated by DOH to issue a prohibition notice requiring the person to cease trading and if they do not do so, they may be issued with a penalty notice, incorporating a fine.
Will there be road blocks over the Easter Period, in particular in the North Coast area?
“Yes you can expect to see more police in more places and on our roads over Easter. We have been conducting filtering stops on some of the road network in recent weeks. Those vehicle checkpoints will be stepped up over the weekend and will continue. Police officers have been out engaging with the public, explaining why they’re there and encouraging them to stay in line with the regulations.”
The vast majority of people have by and large complied with the request to stay at home to protect the health service and to save lives but there are unfortunately a number of people who continue to ignore the messaging. So whilst our approach will continue to be engaging with people, explaining the regulations and encourage them to comply, I think there are a small number of people, if the trend continues over the weekend, can expect to see us move to the fourth ‘E’ which is some form of enforcement.”
Has the historical child sexual abuse investigation into allegations in Fermanagh been ‘halted’ in light of the Covid-19 outbreak?
Detective Chief Superintendent Paula Hilman said: “The investigation into allegations of historical sexual abuse in County Fermanagh remains a priority for PSNI Public Protection during what is an extremely challenging and unprecedented time for policing.
“The current global emergency caused by the Covid-19 pandemic may impact our ability to carry out certain investigative actions however we continue to treat every allegation of sexual abuse seriously and we remain absolutely dedicated to ensuring that our investigations are thorough, gathering all relevant information, and that victims are treated with the utmost sensitivity.”
If you are victim of historical child sexual abuse, support is available through:
The 24 Hour Domestic & Sexual Abuse Helpline – 0808 802 1414
Nexus NI – Belfast 02890 326803 / Enniskillen 02866 320046 http://nexusni.org/
The Rowan Centre free phone helpline – 0800 389 4424 / www.therowan.net
Victim Support NI – Belfast 02890 243133 / Foyle 02871 370086
Men’s Advisory Project – 02890 241929 / Foyle 02871 160001
Other local support services are as follows:
The Arc Living Centre – 02868 628741
The Aisling Centre – 02886 325811
The Oak Healthy Living Centre – 02867 723843.”