In light of the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, officers from all forces throughout the Great Britain and Northern Ireland have been granted dispersal powers in order to help ensure everyone adheres to the social distancing guidance laid out by the Government and Public Health England.
So what does this mean for you – the general public?
The legislation states that officers in Leicestershire will be able to disperse groups of more than two people from any public place. Groups of more than two people – who live in the same household – are permitted
Anyone who refuses to disperse will be given a fixed penalty notice of £60. This will be lowered to £30 if paid within 14 days
Second time offenders will be issued with a £120 fixed penalty notice. This will then double on each further repeat offence.
Anyone who does not pay a fixed penalty notice under the new regulations could be taken to court. Magistrates will then be able to impose unlimited fines
Anyone who refuses to comply will be acting unlawfully. This may result in being arrested, where it is deemed proportionate and necessary. However, the first instance, police will always apply their common sense and discretion
Officers from across the force will be working to ensure that people are complying with the law.
Over the coming days and weeks, we remain committed to community policing within our neighbourhoods. Our preferred style is to engage, explain and encourage – and then enforce only when needed.
Our officers will engage, explain and encourage members of the public in situations where we believe they may not be complying with the new legislation – and this may include interactions in public places and in vehicles.
Working with our partners, we will provide a proportionate response to public concerns around groups or businesses that may be contravening the legislation and we will identify any areas of continual public concern. In such areas, a policing presence will be a priority.
In situations where encouragement does not succeed, officers will enforce the legislation outlined above.
“We will be helping to enforce the terms of the regulations, as the public would want us to. Our advice very much remains the same – and echoes that of both the Government and healthcare professionals. Stay at home and help us overcome the outbreak.”
Does the law mean that anyone who is out, in a group of more than two people, will be fined?
“Absolutely not,” says ACC Debenham.
“I believe – as do our officers – that the best way to engage with the public is to communicate. This is how we aim to resolve issues. We want to listen to the queries, concerns and thoughts of the public and do our best to help.
“If you are out in public, in a group of more than two people, officers will ask that you separate. The current advice is to ensure that we distance ourselves from one another to prevent the virus from spreading.
“Asking people to disperse is in no way different from our existing powers. When we’re policing the night-time economy in particular, if there’s a report of disorder we will ask people to move on. If you don’t, then you run the risk of being given a fine.
“The powers are the same, it’s only the circumstances that have changed.”
Although the law only came into force today, officers have been following Government guidance around social distancing and reminding people of the advice given.
ACC Debenham says:
“We are receiving calls from the public to reports of gatherings – as well as non-essential businesses remaining open – and our officers are responding accordingly. However I would like to ask the public to take notice of the guidance and adhere to social distancing to try and reduce such reports.
“We’re also receiving a number of calls about what you can and can’t do. Again, please use common sense. Guidance states that you should stay at home and only go out for essential shopping, if you have medical needs or if it’s necessary for you to travel to and from work. The Government and Public Health England have stated you can leave your property for one form of exercise a day.
“As a force, our message remains clear – stay at home, save lives.”