DUP North Antrim MLA and Policing Board member Mervyn Storey has pressed the Chief Constable to ensure his officers take a more robust approach to enforcement of the Covid-19 regulations.
Mervyn Storey said: “As the Executive faces the unenviable task of responding to the latest rise in Covid-19 cases many in the public are rightly asking how they can be sure that any new rules will be enforced more effectively than those already in place.
“In many parts of Northern Ireland there is widespread concern that the PSNI approach to enforcing the rules has been inconsistent and toothless.
“The perception, rightly or wrongly, is that breaches by republicans and the GAA are deemed untouchable. Numerous investigations have been launched – but how many have actually resulted in files going to the PPS?
“The Chief Constable must realise that this isn’t about protecting the image of his organisation – it is about protecting lives. We have heard a great deal about the four Es – Engage, Explain, Encourage, Enforce – but where is the hard and fast evidence that this tiered response by the police is actually preventing repeat offending? I have written to Simon Byrne to press for clear answers.
“As the number of cases rises, policing activity in every community must be ramped up. It isn’t good enough for those in senior ranks within the police to say they take their lead from the Executive table on what areas of enforcement to prioritise.
“The PSNI has a statutory duty to protect the public and uphold the rule of law. It is time they finally stepped up to mark and delivered a clear message that those intent on breaking the law and putting the vulnerable at risk will simply not be tolerated.”
In response, Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said the Chief Constable and he had recently “provided detailed answers” to Mr Storey and the rest of the Policing Board about its approach to enforcement.
“As a police service, we will continue to focus our operational response to the pandemic on areas which the Department of Health has advised cause the greatest level of concern in terms of the risk of increasing virus transmission,” he said.
The PSNI’s approach has been that officers will engage, explain and encourage members of the community to comply with the health protection regulations, he added.
“While enforcement is our last resort, we have not, and will not, shy away from enforcement when it is necessary. The facts speak from themselves, with over 2,500 enforcement actions since March, including Community Resolution Notices, Penalty Notices and Prohibition Notices.
“In addition, a number of investigations remain ongoing into breaches of the Regulations at a range of events including a number of funerals and protests.”
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