An update on a number of key issues facing the police in NI.
How many fines, cautions, arrests to date under the new powers?
The powers were only implemented on Saturday evening so it is too early to give running totals of how many fines, cautions, arrests at this stage. We are still compiling data however, we will endeavour to keep all media updated on a regular basis and provide an overview from across the organisation responding to as many questions as we can.
What do the new powers mean for police?
The new powers mean that if a person commits an offence of failing to comply with any such direction or restriction imposed on them without reasonable excuse, officers will consider an appropriate disposal. That may initially be advice and guidance or a Community Resolution Notice (CRN).
However, if required Police will enforce this legislation and issue a penalty notice of £60. The issuance of a penalty notice in the first instance is not in itself 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 are fully behind the new measures announced by the UK government and Northern Ireland Executive on Saturday evening and working in partnership with our colleagues in the NI Executive Office, the Department of Health and agencies across the public sector, including our outstanding health service workers to jointly fight the spread of the virus. We will continue to police with the cooperation of our community providing the best possible service to the public, while also rightly protecting our officers and staff but we cannot do this unless the public adhere to the new measures.
We have had high visibility patrols in place and are pleased that the vast majority of people are complying with the new measures.
Where our officers encounter people outside who do not appear to be complying with social distancing, officers will use the new dispersal powers to protect the health of the public and as outlined already will do so using a four-phase approach – Engage with the public to encourage voluntary compliance; Explain why dispersal is vital to reduce the spread of this virus; Encourage people to disperse and Enforce where necessary when people do not listen and put others at risk. We will only do this when it is absolutely necessary.
There have been issues with people driving to some outdoor spaces such as parks and beaches and we will address this, working with our partner agencies where appropriate.
The public should be well aware of the advice from our public health partners and the Government about social distancing and movement and, on that basis, we would encourage people not to drive to local beauty spots for their daily exercise as others may have the same idea and social distancing may not be achievable. To enforce social distancing, we would ask that you use your common sense and only leave your house if absolutely necessary.
Each and every one of us has a personal responsibility to follow the NI Executive regulations and do everything we can to stop the spread of Covid-19.
We have reluctantly been given extraordinary powers in an extraordinary situation. They are powers we would not normally wish to have and I’d like to thank the public for helping and supporting us.
What is the current sickness rate in the police workforce and what contingency plans PSNI have in place to protect the area in the case of widespread sickness?
Earlier today the Chief Constable advised that two members of the PSNI have been confirmed as having coronavirus and that a number of other officers and staff are taking self-isolation precautions to minimise the spread of Covid-19. Due to operational reasons we are unable to confirm where these two members of staff work or provide any further details about the numbers of PSNI staff and officers who are currently sick or self-isolating.
However, as we stand, we are the third lowest police service anywhere in the UK for absence at work and can reassure the public that we remain committed to ensuring the safety and security of all our communities. We are confident we have tried and tested plans in place that would stand up to the Government’s reasonable worst case scenario and have a full range of business continuity plans to protect and maintain essential services.
These are going to be extremely challenging times for the police service and our partner organisations and we are all working together to support the response to COVID-19 Coronavirus and to ensure we have in place proportionate, appropriate and efficient procedures to address and respond to any challenges presented to the police service by COVID-19.
PSNI, as an employer and public service, is following all advice issued by the Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health and Public Health Agency and has communicated the relevant information and advice to all officers and staff.
Updates to the whole organisation are issued on a regular basis and we will continue to communicate further steps in the days and weeks ahead, as advised by our partners, to help officers and staff protect themselves so that we remain in a position to keep our communities safe.
All officers have been issued with clear guidance as to the measures in place across the service in line with advice from the Public Health Agency and the Northern Ireland Executive. In addition officers have access to immediate operational expert advice for any incident, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is a rapidly developing situation and we continue to take a lead from the Government and our Public Health partners.
Are police worried about the increase of drivers racing on the roads and using them as racetracks?
Despite there now being less people on our roads, inappropriate speed for the conditions remains one of the main causes of the most serious collisions in which people are killed and seriously injured. Removing excess speed from the road safety equation should be the easiest thing that every road user can do.
Some people have questioned why we are still carrying out road safety enforcement given the current global pandemic. It is very simple, we all need to protect the NHS. Our health service colleagues have a big enough challenge on their hands. The last thing they need is to deal with the aftermath of a serious collision. Please take personal responsibility for road safety, now more than ever.
While there is less traffic on many roads, we are seeing greater numbers of pedestrians from children through to older people and more cyclists using our road network across all times of the day – so it is critically important that we all look out for each other.
Slow down, wear a seatbelt, never ever drink or take drugs and drive and always pay attention to your surroundings.
Were police called to an incident where a Translink bus driver was spat at by someone believed to have covid-19 on Saturday evening?
Police are investigating a report of an assault in the St. John’s Avenue area of east Belfast on Saturday 28th March. It was reported that a male spat at a member of staff on board a Translink bus at approximately 11pm.
This was a disgusting and despicable incident and we would appeal to anyone who witnessed the incident to contact police on 101, quoting reference number 1593 28/03/20. Alternatively, information can also be provided to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 which is 100% anonymous and gives people the power to speak up and stop crime.