POLICE in Barnsley are not ‘running around dishing out tickets’ and penalising people for flouting the rules during the coronavirus lockdown, a top officer has said.

Chief Constable Stephen Watson made the comments at a recent Public Accountability Board meeting - broadcast digitally - when asked to explain the force’s approach to people who don’t abide by quarantine legislation.

So far dozens of people have been dispersed from Barnsley town centre since the lockdown measures were enforced having been found to be ignoring government guidance.

Chf Con Watson said the method was to ‘explain, engage and encourage’ before handing out stricter penalties, but enforcement and fines of up to £120 and possible court action could follow if previous steps are ignored as has been seen in Barnsley.

He also urged people to ‘stick with us’ on the lockdown and raised concerns the longer the quarantine goes on for, people may find the rules ‘more and more difficult to follow’.

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He added that if people begin to ignore the rules in future, efforts to suppress the virus ‘will be in vain’, but added the vast amount of people they had approached in the public were very compliant.

“We recognise these restrictions are very difficult but even when we explain to people, the vast vast majority do comply,” he said.

“Enforcement is provided to us in legislation and where it is necessary of course we will enforce the restrictions because they are there to keep people safe but this will be a last resort.

“The idea we’re going to be running around flashing out tickets is the last thing we want to do - we’re all busy, these are worrying times and we hope we don’t get to that point.

“As of last weekend, we had not enforced and not issued formal enforcement notices at all which I think speaks well to how the public has responded to this message.

“We recognise the longer the restrictions are in place, the more the dreadful the toll this disease is taking on people and the increased anxiety levels as the government tries to arrange an exit strategy, we may get to a place where people find the restrictions more and more difficult.

“Our plea is for people to stick with it - we’ve come a long way as a country and breaking those restrictions prematurely will mean our collective efforts will have been in vain and there is simply no point in doing this.”

Widespread closing of pubs, clubs and the postponement of football matches has also benefited the force in dealing with the crisis, according to Chf Con Watson.

“So far the abstractions we are seeing are very manageable and are almost entirely offset by a reduction in the general volume type demand we usually experience,” he told the meeting.  

“When you close pubs, clubs, restaurants and you don’t have football matches, these are things which generate a lot of activity to keep our staff busy and these things have fallen away. 

“We are still able to manage business as usual in the same way as we would otherwise aspire to do but we are also able to pivot to the demand which is brought about by Covid-19 in our own roles or supporting partners. 

“The restrictions set out by the government are well understood by the public by now, but it is important these rules are upheld. 

“People in the whole understand these restrictions and they know that at the end of the day, they’re there to save lives. This is about protecting vulnerable people and making sure the NHS does not become overwhelmed.”