Jo Shiner said there have been a number of incidents where her officers have been left with no choice but to enforce the rules, including in Brighton over Halloween which saw the organiser of a party fined £10,000.
However, she said, on most occasions, members of the public had ‘forgotten the rules or perhaps misunderstood them’ and, once the regulations were explained by officers, most people were understanding.
On Wednesday, Chief Constable Shiner provided a general update on policing in Sussex during the pandemic.
The health crisis, and the varying degrees of lockdown it has created, have posed additional challenges for police forces across England, who have been tasked with enforcing new sets of regulations.
When asked about fining people £10,000 for breaches of the rules, Chief Constable Shiner said, “We don’t want to be penalising people for making genuine mistakes.”
However, she said Sussex Police, as well as other forces across England, are still seeing a ‘worrying increase’ in assaults on front line officers.
But she praised these officers who have been showing up for work ‘to help protect their communities’ during the crisis: “Sometimes I think it’s easy to see the uniform and forget that there is a person behind it, but these officers are going out on the front line and then back to their families.
“We have seen a reduction in staff absences and some officers have even moved away from home if they live with someone who is vulnerable just so they can continue the job and protect people by coming to work.
“It has been challenging and there have been changes.
“They are wearing masks in the cars and sometimes having them on for 14 hour shifts while communicating on the radio but people have reacted positively and thanked our officers for their work.
“Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve had members of the public coming into stations and giving our officers chocolate and flowers to thank them for what they’ve been doing.
“I think that’s fantastic and if there are people who want to do this, I really would encourage people to say thank you to their officers and let them know if they think they’re doing a good job.”
Chief Constable Shiner also praised her front line officers, who she said have been ‘dedicated’ to getting knives off our streets.
She said they are trying to do this by educating people about the risks of carrying a knife, as well as through Operation Sceptre which Sussex Police has launched to tackle knife crime.
Through that, officers – in connection with partners at British Transport Police, nightclubs, bars, education providers and youth services – are carrying out a range of activities, including stop and search, test purchasing operations and providing knife amnesty bins in towns across Sussex.
Chief Constable Shiner said some recent incidents of knife crime across Sussex have also been linked to county lines drug dealing, which is responsible for a large percentage of the violent crime committed in towns across Sussex.
In the past few months, she said Sussex Police have ‘taken out’ five county line drug groups operating in and around Sussex.
These gangs, according to Chief Constable Shiner, have been exploiting young and vulnerable people in Sussex who are left to feel like they have no way out.
She said, “As Chief Constable, I will not tolerate that.”
Chief Constable Shiner said statistics show knife crime is down nine per cent year on year across Sussex, but did acknowledge that the Covid-19 pandemic, and particularly the first lockdown in the spring, have impacted crime figures in 2020.
Crime levels are now returning to pre-Covid levels, according to Chief Constable Shiner, and she said one of her priorities is ensuring the public feel confident communicating with her officers.
She said, “We are going back to basic. We are encouraging officers to do more foot patrols.
“We want people to feel like they can walk up to an officer or PCSO and just talk to them, whether they’re giving us information or not.
“Building up that communication with the public is really important to me.
“That perception that people feel safe again is really important.”
Chief Constable Shiner said her other priorities remain ‘catching criminals and delivering an outstanding service’.
“Catching criminals is why most of us get involved in the police in the first place,” she said. “Now, I am a firm believer in the rehabilitation process and that some people, those convicted of crimes, can change their ways. But I do also believe that one of the main priorities our communities want from us is to be out catching criminals. They want us to catch the people who bring harm to our communities.”