Borough police commander hopes lockdown does not lead to arrests
'If we can trust people to self-police then police officers shouldn’t have to worry because the virus will slow right down'
26 March, 2020 — By Bronwen Weatherby
A barbecue is broken up in Fortune Green
CAMDEN’S most senior police officer has warned “society needs to understand what’s essential” if historic lockdown measures aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus are going to work.
Chief Supt Raj Kohli, the borough commander, said: “My preference is that the vast bulk of people will understand and will be inside, and what we have left are people who don’t understand how important it is to stay inside, people who think they’re a key worker or think they’re exempt – like a plumber who is going to a job because someone’s central heating is broken might think they’re exempt.”
He added: “We’re not going to enforce things until society understands what is essential and what’s not, we’ll at first be telling people to go home. If they say they disagree and they refuse, then in those circumstances we can give a fixed penalty notice, we can fine you. And in the very extreme circumstances you can be arrested.”
He was speaking to the New Journal after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ramped up polite requests for social distancing into a lockdown order, telling people not to leave their homes unless shopping for essentials, one form of exercise a day or to travel to work. Gatherings cannot be larger than two people.
Fines were set at £30 yesterday (Wednesday). That compares to the 135 euro penalty that citizens will face if they break lockdown rules in France.
“We will have failed if we have to fine and arrest people,” said Chief Supt Kohli (right). “I’d rather people understand what they should do and listen to what the police, politicians and journalists are telling them.”
On the first day of the new measures, however, people were found having a barbecue in Fortune Green and queuing for ice cream vans in Kilburn Grange. Some were using outdoor gyms against the rules, while there were different interpretations over who could travel to work.
Construction workers were given the green light to continue as long as they kept a distance of two metres from each other.
Kentish Town at 5pm yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon
“If we can trust people to self-police then police officers shouldn’t have to worry because the virus will slow right down,” said Chief Supt Kohli.
“But, because of the immaturity and bloody-mindedness of some people, it’s going to affect police officers and lord knows the impact it will have on NHS staff. It doesn’t matter what party you voted for, I thought the Prime Minister was very clear and his direction to me was very clear.”
“He’s now trusting the British public to do the right thing and explaining there are potential repercussions for a small minority if they don’t work together with everyone else. These people who aren’t listening to the advice or deliberately going against it are spreading the most infection.”
Chief Supt Raj Kohli
Some businesses who have been forced to close during the crisis have begun boarding up their premises. “Is there a potential for shops and pubs to be broken into? Of course there is,” said Chief Supt Kohli.
“But if owners of these premises follow crime prevention advice then it should be fine. Also, with less people on the street our police officers’ day-to-day work is less and thieves and other criminals are more visible. So, if anyone is thinking of taking advantage of the situation then I’d say don’t be stupid and we will catch you if you do.”
The incident in Fortune Green saw officers break up the barbecue on Tuesday afternoon. Town Hall leader Councillor Georgia Gould has warned that parks could close if people do not stay away from each other when out for a walk or a run.
The same alert came from the City of London about Hampstead Heath, where pathways were crowded over the weekend, and the Royal Parks in relation to Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park.
As some controversy continued over construction sites, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said work should halt but the Government suggested it could go on. Camden said it was working with contractors to close down its own Community Investment Programme sites but one was still open.
Regeneration chief Councillor Danny Beales said: “We are supporting businesses as much as we can during this uncertain time, and we are also calling on the Government for clarity on their position on the construction industry and to provide assurances similar to those we have seen put in place for other businesses.”