A review of policing says officers sometimes struggled to enforce coronavirus restrictions because of a lack of clarity from ministers.
The analysis by a policing watchdog found chief constables heard about new restrictions from the government’s television briefings.
Confusion led to mistakes, putting confidence at risk, say inspectors.
The report says that despite major challenges, forces in England and Wales learned from mistakes.
It adds that it is essential the police do not become seen as “coercive agents of ministers”.
Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS), the body that reviews how well police do their work, said the rapid introduction and repeated changes to coronavirus laws left forces confused.
“Despite close working between the Home Office and national policing leaders, communication about restrictions and regulations was often at short notice and subject to change,” says the inspectors’ report.
“Many forces expressed frustration at the way that some government announcements were communicated… they had not been consulted in advance.
“This made it difficult to produce [internal] advice to forces on enforcing legislation.
Police chiefs in England told the inspectors they had little access to policymakers in the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), who were devising the new laws.
Some were so concerned about what they were legally required to do, they took their own legal advice.
“Some forces expressed concern that they first heard of certain changes at the 5pm daily televised government briefings,” says the report.
“In some cases, the changes required immediate implementation and many forces felt disadvantaged by a lack of notice and consultation.
“Their difficulty was made worse by a widespread confusion in relation to the status of government announcements and statements by ministers.
“Ministers asserting that their guidance – which had no higher status than requests – were in fact ‘instructions to the British people’ inevitably confused people.”
Source: (BBC News)