Coronavirus Scotland: Cops urged not to be ‘heavy-handed’ amid border travel crackdown plans
His announcement came after Nicola Sturgeon revealed on Saturday that she wanted the force to “strengthen” enforcement of legal travel between Scotland and England, and between council areas.
The First Minister insisted “how that is done is an operational matter for the Chief Constable”.
In a statement, Mr Livingstone said that he did not consider it “appropriate or proportionate” for officers to put up checkpoints or roadblocks “simply” to enforce travel restrictions. Yet he went on to reveal that cops would be there for that very purpose – though insisted their primary role would be to “ensure drivers and vehicles are in a fit condition to drive”.
Mr Livingstone said: “I remain clear I do not consider it appropriate or proportionate for officers to establish checkpoints or roadblocks to simply enforce travel restrictions.
“These restrictions are a preventative measure to halt the progress of Covid and Police Scotland will support this approach with a strong operational profile to deter those who would put others at risk. Today, I have authorised the doubling of our operational presence in the Border areas of Scotland.
“These highly visible patrols will be proactively deployed on our road networks to continue our operational activity to ensure drivers and vehicles are in a fit condition to drive. The patrols will also deter anyone who might be considering breaching the coronavirus travel restrictions.”
“That proportionate response should not just apply to the English border but across Scotland. There is a significant difference in the infection rate between the Highlands and central belt so that will need attention too but in an intelligent way.
“Police Scotland should resist pressure to adopt a heavy handed approach whether it is on the English border or across Scotland.”
And Scottish Labour justice spokesperson Rhoda Grant said: “The Chief Constable is right that it is incumbent on Police Scotland to ensure that any enforcement of the ban is done in such a way that it does not damage the relationship between police and the public.
“However, there is an expectation from the public that the police must uphold the law. Therefore, an unenforceable travel ban actually erodes the public’s confidence in both police and government.”
John Lamont, Scottish Conservative MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, said: “The Scottish Government and Police Scotland need to ensure clarity around travel restrictions to avoid any public misunderstanding.
“Clearly this virus does not respect borders but a range of exemptions have always been in place to allow safe and necessary travel for valid reasons, and we need to know if that has changed.”
The latest figures for the number of fixed penalty notices issued by police for breaches of travel regulations during the pandemic is 89. As a snapshot Police Scotland carried out 40 interventions and issued 21 penalties over a one-week period from December 3 to 9.
Cops issued four fines after they attended a holiday rental accommodation in Dumfriesshire on December 5 and discovered people from four different households in Ayrshire enjoying a birthday party.
On December 2 officers in Glasgow stopped a vehicle with a defective rear light and concerns about the manner of driving. It emerged the driver and passenger had travelled from Sunderland to collect scrap metal, earning the pair fines.
A man from Berwick-upon-Tweed was found under the influence on December 6. He was spoken to by officers who encouraged him to return home but he was spotted again later that day and hit with a fine.
On the same day cops in Renfrewshire received a report of intoxicated males causing a disturbance in the street. Officers attended and traced two men from the Glasgow area and both were hit in the pocket.
British Transport Police are also operating an increased presence at stations across the network. Passengers should expect to see more BTP cops at major transport hubs across Tier Four regions as well as the wider network.
Officers will be engaging with passengers and reminding them of the Government’s advice for that specific region under the updated Tier system. Those living in Tier Four areas are being advised to stay at home and only use public transport for essential journeys.
Members of the public who do need to travel will be reminded of the requirement to wear a face covering, unless exempt, and follow social distancing as best as possible.
Assistant Chief Constable Sean O’Callaghan said: “The advice is clear, and we are confident that the large majority of people will abide by the restrictions in place.
“As has been the case throughout the pandemic, officers will be supporting rail staff through high-visibility patrols across England, Scotland and Wales, ensuring those on the network are safe. Our policing method remains the same – officers will engage with passengers and only use enforcement if absolutely necessary.
“Anyone planning a journey over the festive period is urged to consider whether travelling is essential and encouraged to stay at home as per latest Government advice. This is a difficult time for all of us, but these restrictions are in place to save lives, stop the spread of the virus and support the NHS.”
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross urged SNP ministers to explain if they plan to return to regional tiers.
He said: “Since the beginning of November, Scotland’s 32 local authorities have adapted to the Scottish Government’s system of levels. People have made immense sacrifices, as they have done since March, in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
“For the government to abandon its system may be justifiable due to the continued spread of the virus and the unknown nature of this new strain. However, it is crucial that people are told exactly when these blanket restrictions are going to be reviewed.”
The 108-mile frontier between Gretna and Berwick has dozens of road crossings. And police fed bosses have previously warned enforcing strict border controls – or travel over council boundaries – would be impossible.