By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Police officers are carrying out more “proactive” patrols across the county as a councillor calls for stricter enforcement of coronavirus rules.
Swale council’s cabinet member for community, Cllr Richard Palmer, warned that a “hardcore” of people in Kent continue to ignore the rules, despite the county being in the highest tier of restrictions, with pubs and hotels shut.
His borough has the second worst Covid infection rate in the UK with around 588 cases per 100,000 people recorded in the week of November 27 to December 2. Only Medway has a higher rate of people catching the virus.
Cllr Palmer said he was pleased that Kent police officers had not acted like an “invading army” by setting up roadblocks and checkpoints in the 13 districts during the two lockdowns but he added: “I feel they are lacking enforcement.”
Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott defended the force’s record and said fines had been handed out “where necessary” but the preferred approach was to educate people about the risks they were taking.
Mr Scott has described the response as “proportionate” and “reasonable” but said a more “robust” stance was being taken following November’s lockdown.
Under this, Kent Police has secured around £744,000 of Government cash to carry out more “proactive” patrols across the county, although Mr Scott did not reveal the areas where officers were being deployed.
He said: “Those patrols are taking place but if there are areas where people are not following the rules please encourage residents to report them.
“Police are attending the majority of them because they have that extra resource and are taking that robust approach that people are expecting.”
Fines issued for breaching Covid rules doubled last month compared to the 130 penalties levied between the end of March and October. This has largely been caused by holidaymakers attempting to leave the UK via Kent’s ports.
At the meeting, Cllr Palmer provided the online panel with anecdotal evidence of some residents in Swale not following the guidelines, notably in rural areas.
He told the commissioner: “If you go to Tesco everybody seems to obey the rules because they have got security guards there. If you go to the small village shops it is very hard for them to enforce. I feel the police need to enforce.”
Amid Covid, there has also been a “very concerning” rise in domestic abuse cases, Mr Scott said.
Meanwhile, the highest number of anti-social behaviour (ASB) offences has been recorded in 2020 compared to the last seven years.
The reported crimes include noisy parties, rowdy gatherings in public places and neighbour disputes.
Despite this, crime has fallen by 5% across Kent during the pandemic, with around 13,431 fewer offences, according to figures from the commissioner.
It was revealed there had been a drop in the number of sexual offences, robberies and burglaries reported.
Concluding, Mr Scott said: “I believe the force has responded well to constant changes in the guidance, many times coming at short notice.
“They have been able to communicate those messages to officers and staff out on the front line everyday and deliver policing during the pandemic.”