With the announcement of 348 fines having been issued across the county for breaches of new public health regulations, Sussex Police confirms enforcement is the absolute last resort.
Deputy Chief Constable Jo Shiner said: “We empathise with the public and understand how difficult it is at this time. We will continue our policing approach of engaging, explaining and encouraging and only then as an absolute last resort we will enforce. We do not want to criminalise people who we know are under pressure unless we have to.
“It is important that our relationship with the public continues to be one of trust and confidence, and on my patrol in Brighton yesterday it was pleasing to hear people speak positively about how we are engaging with them to keep them safe. We are so grateful to the vast majority of the public who are supporting us by staying home.
“Our enforcement in relation to some crimes has, if anything, ramped up. We are seeing significant impacts in relation to drugs offences, county lines, violence and we are having a visible policing presence in rural areas in relation to thefts and burglaries. We also continue to police our roads effectively, identifying people who are drink and drug driving, speeding and driving in an anti-social way.
“We are seeing significant results in relation to these crimes and we continue that enforcement action 24/7 making sure we are locking up criminals and protecting the public. In many of the cases, people we have found to be committing offences have also been given tickets for breaching lockdown restrictions.”
Visitors making non-essential journeys from outside the county to Sussex’s coastal and rural beauty spots are among those receiving Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) since the measures were introduced five weeks ago. They are not welcome during the coronavirus lockdown.
Latest figures show 189 FPNs were issued in the past two weeks, of which 43 were on Sunday alone (April 26) as many people travelled to the county on day trips, including a number of families from London visiting Camber Sands and Winchelsea Beach for ‘fresh air’.
The issuing of fines still remains the exception however, with the majority of people complying with the restrictions or responding positively to police engagement – fine accounts for just one in 4,896 of the population.
DCC Shiner said: “Our policing approach during the lockdown has not changed. We are still patrolling, we are still engaging with the public and we are still taking enforcement action when it is absolutely necessary to do so.
“We understand the frustrations of the public and we appreciate this is a very difficult time for everyone, but now is not the time to stop following the guidance, now is the time to stick with it.
“Last weekend we saw an increasing number of people travelling into Sussex from outside the county and it’s not on. There will be plenty of time for a day trip to Sussex but that time is not now.”
As well as thanking members of the public who are following the guidelines and staying home, Sussex Police is also highlighting the work of the Special Constabulary – its volunteer police officers who, alongside police officers and PCSOs, are working on the frontline.
Specials have contributed 410 shifts – a total of 3,411 hours – of their own spare time to support this national effort since the lockdown was put in place.
The force also has 61 student police officers currently undergoing a condensed nine-week training course, adapted for current conditions, who will be ready to deploy in June with dedicated coaches as part of the Government’s on-going programme to recruit additional police officers.
999 and 101 call rates for the past month remain lower than the same period last year, at around 25% and 14% less respectively, but online reports have tripled driven by the public reporting breaches of the current measures.
Encouraging the reporting of domestic abuse and ensuring any victims can receive help and support during this period remains a policing priority.
DCC Shiner added: “In the past two weeks, we have started to see an upwards trend in domestic violence crimes following a dip and we expect this to rise further when lockdown measures are eased or modified.
“We have adapted to ensure we can support people at risk and find them a safe space. We will always pursue offenders.”
Some of the specific measures in place include:
- dedicated ‘domestic abuse’ cars across Sussex, responding to medium risk incidents. Emergency response officers will always respond quickly to high risk incidents.
- a new specialist team able to deal with any non-urgent cases by appointment and this has included a new video appointment service where conversations can’t take place face to face.
- the launch this week of domestic abuse awareness at local supermarkets, with high profile signage at entrances and take-away information, complementing an online campaign.
If you’re a victim of domestic abuse, or know someone who is, and there’s an emergency that’s ongoing or life is in danger, call police on 999. If you can’t talk because the perpetrator is nearby, you can press the numbers ‘55’ into your mobile phone which will alert the operator of your circumstances.
The Sussex Safe Space website provides a directory of help and support available near you.