UK police officers have been told to take a “consistent” approach when ensuring people comply with emergency measures aimed at curbing coronavirus.
Guidance to officers calls on forces to “coordinate” efforts and emphasises the importance of professionalism.
It comes amid criticism of the way some forces have handled the new measures.
A former Justice of the Supreme Court told the BBC one force’s use of drones to film walkers in the Peak District had been “disgraceful”.
But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said police forces were doing a difficult job and being sensible about enforcing social distancing measures.
New guidance was issued to police on Thursday when officers were given powers to fine people who gather in groups or refuse to return home, following social distancing measures introduced by the government last week.
The document from the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing, seen by the BBC, says:
communities must receive a “consistent” level of service from officers as well as a “single style and tone”
police should keep an “inquisitive, questioning mindset” when finding out why people are outside
new enforcement measures should not be used if people are vulnerable and cannot safely return home
However, some forces have adopted different approaches, particularly around the issue of driving.
Derbyshire Police used drones to film people parking their cars for walks in the Peak District and released black dye into Buxton’s Blue Lagoon to deter sightseers.
Lancashire Police issued 123 enforcement notices over the weekend, while Cheshire Police summonsed six people for various offences, including travelling to purchase “non-essential” items.
On Monday, Lord Sumption, a former Justice of the Supreme Court, said the actions of Derbyshire Police “shamed our policing traditions”.
“The tradition of policing in this country is that policemen are citizens in uniform, they are not members of a disciplined hierarchy operating just at the government’s command,” he said.
There have been discussions among senior officers about the need for police to exercise common sense and sound judgment.
Forces were “finding their way” in dealing with the unprecedented measures, Martin Hewitt from the National Police Chiefs’ Council told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
The chief constable of Avon and Somerset Police, Andy Marsh, said officers want to work with the public in promoting social distancing. “We’re not going to enforce our way out of this problem,” he said.
Sir Patrick Vallance said at the government’s daily coronavirus news briefing that the NHS was seeing around an additional 1,000 patients a day and described this daily rise as “stable”.
“That shows that it’s going up not in an increasing amount but in a constant amount, which may suggest that we’re already beginning to see some effect,” he said.
It was the second day in a row that daily deaths had fallen, although Sir Patrick cautioned against paying “too much attention” to day-to-day fluctuations in figures.
Meanwhile, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released new figures on coronavirus deaths in England and Wales which showed for the first time the number of deaths linked to Covid-19 outside of hospitals.
The new ONS data includes how many deaths were registered up to the 20 March – the day that pubs and clubs were ordered to shut down to help tackle the outbreak.
What’s different about the data is it looks at community deaths – people who died at home or in residential care who doctors recorded on the death certificate as probably having Covid-19.
There were 103 – 1% of all deaths.
The ONS also trawled a few days ahead of the 20 March to capture any deaths stuck in a recording backlog – bringing the total to 210 deaths involving coronavirus.
That’s 40 more than the 170 deaths that the government announced at the time – those were all hospital deaths of patients who had tested positive for coronavirus and so definitely had the infection.
In comparison, there are not enough tests to check how many people in the community are infected, or how many deaths are linked to Covid-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.
So these community death figures are interesting, but they don’t give us a clearer idea of the true toll.