Robin Smith praised the overwhelming majority of Islanders for their ‘absolutely magnificent’ response to restrictions affecting their freedom of movement, but stressed the continuing importance of social distancing in the wake of changes in official advice.
He said: ‘The worst thing we could do is throw away the good work of the past four weeks. That would be a disaster. If we have learnt anything, it is that Islanders get this. I really think they get it and I don’t think they will throw it away.’
He also said that while there had been an overall drop in the crime rate in recent weeks, the force had seen an increase in domestic incidents.
The Island’s latest crime statistics showed that crime fell in Jersey by 60% between 30 March and 27 April, with the States police investigating 179 fewer crimes compared with the same period last year.
However, the police said they had responded to 14% more ‘domestic incidents’, and had seen a substantial increase in calls from the public expressing concern about the welfare of fellow citizens, up from 151 to 224 for the same comparative period.
While Mr Smith said that the decrease in crime reflected the impact of the lockdown – with overall figures being driven down by the closure of pubs and clubs – he added that he shared concerns expressed in the UK about the impact of lockdown on vulnerable young people.
‘Will we see an increase in reported domestic and sexual abuse and crime-related matters? There have been meetings with the government to look at how we might be able to better understand that and prepare ourselves for it,’ Mr Smith said.
As the force’s emphasis has shifted to what the police chief described as ‘policing the virus’, statistics released at the start of May show that the force visited 728 premises, stopped 550 people and – with the support of the honorary police – stopped 8,000 vehicles, and visited parks and beaches on 821 occasions.
Only 17 arrests were made for non-compliance with the new regulations, though what are described as ‘words of advice’ were given on 1,224 occasions. Mr Smith was reluctant to regard such advice as a telling-off.
However, he emphasised the extent to which their approach was based on the principle of policing by consent.
‘I want to maintain the legitimacy of policing and maintain the relationship we have with Islanders and that’s the main thing. And at the end of this, I want the public to say the police were there for us,’ he said.
Mr Smith declined to be drawn into criticism of some of the guidance issued, but he offered his own view of the situation.
‘I look at it in terms of two things: whatever you choose to do, can you effectively socially distance? That’s the nub of the first principle. The second thing is our collective public conscience: what will we be saying to our friends and family? What will we say we did to stop the spread and how we changed our activities?
‘A lot of people in this Island will say very positive things about how tough it was to stay indoors, about the great weather coming and not being able to do the things we wanted to do, but that we did it for the greater good,’ he said.
The police are already looking beyond the coronavirus crisis to consider what lessons might be learnt from the changing trend of crime figures resulting from restrictions in movement and in gatherings.
A recovery group has been established to try to seize what Mr Smith described as the ‘strategic advantage’ following last month’s virtual elimination of crime stemming from the night-time economy and the impact of travel restrictions on attempted drug importation.
‘What do we learn from it? What can we adjust from it? It would be a lost opportunity if, after however many months it’s going to be – and I think there’s going to be a degree of social distancing for many, many months – we don’t realise that opportunity to try to find ways to prevent some of those alcohol-related assaults in those sorts of environments and their knock-on effect,’ he said.