South Yorkshire Police ‘willing and able’ to use new powers amid reports of coughing at police and spitting

South Yorkshire Police are “willing and able” to use new powers to help enforce a government lockdown as its chief constable declared the force in good health to police the coronavirus pandemic.

Tuesday, 24th March 2020, 6:52 pm
Updated Wednesday, 25th March 2020, 3:55 pm

Chief constable Stephen Watson told The Star 90 percent of the force’s 2,500-plus police officers – as well as nearly 200 special constables – are fit for work and already playing their part.

The top cop also refused to rule out cancelling officers’ holiday to make sure they have enough staff to police strict new measures on daily life.

He did confirm a “number of” officers are currently off sick or self-isolating, but insisted the force is “functioning well” and has enough of its workforce to maintain a full service. This will be kept under review, however.

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Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police Stephen Watson.

Chief constable Watson said: “It’s early days and things may get tougher but as those things get tougher I am sure we will be able to respond. We have enough to be able to flex and pivot to new and emerging demands.”

All police stations, including smaller stations, will stay open “for now”, he said.

“It’s entirely possible that we have to do things differently. But on the other side of the ledger the closure of pubs and clubs, and the postponement of football has created the situation where some of our demand has fallen quite substantially.

“At the moment they are seeing all demand fall off quite substantially. I think people are responding well.”

Chief constable Watson said the force is expecting to see a fall in crimes such as burglaries with more people staying inside their homes.

However, they are braced for a rise in other crimes.

“We do anticipate an increase in domestic abuse. We do know that a number of people may decide to consume alcohol to an excess,” he said.

“That would not be a smart move because that creates difficulties for households.

He also warned of “false Samaritans”, who have already targeted vulnerable people in South Yorkshire.

He said: “My advice in that regard is to only accept help from those you already know. Accepting advice or offers from a total stranger may lead to you becoming victim of someone profiteering from a scam.”

Despite reports in other parts of the country of emergency workers being deliberately coughed on and spat at, Chief constable Watson said he was not aware of any reports of that happening in South Yorkshire. Protective equipment, including face masks and gloves, has been issued to officers.

And, despite rumours of scuffles at supermarkets across the county amid tensions over panic buying, he was also not aware of that actually being the case.

He admitted “the shape of the new powers was still emerging”, when asked if officers had began carrying out new powers given to them by the Prime Minister.

The finer details of the legislation will emerge on Thursday, he said. For now, officers are ‘supporting and advising’ the public with the new rules.

“We are anticipating the vast majority will be compliant,” he said.

“This is about saving lives. These rules have been put in place for a very good reason.”