Coronavirus (COVID-19): framework for decision making - overview of public engagement

This report outlines the themes emerging from a rapid analysis of the public engagement exercise on our approach to decision making with regard to changes to the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown arrangements.

10. Compliance, Enforcement and Policing


The discussions about compliance, enforcement and policing are primarily split between contributors who advocate for stronger restrictions and more rigorous enforcement, and others who advocate for more individual freedom and agency to decide what to do. There were also some differing views as to whether current restrictions are 'rules' or 'guidance'. Many expressed frustration at those that are seen to flout the advice. Discussions on this topic related to:

  • Tougher restrictions and policing
  • Maintaining rights and freedoms
  • Maintaining public trust

There was also some discussion around business compliance and how to keep staff and service users safe. This is addressed in chapter 8.

Tougher restrictions and policing

Those calling for tougher restrictions often linked these issues to measures such as enforcing social distancing, the wearing of face masks, and tighter travel restrictions. One of the more popular ideas related to the banning of spitting in public.

There were concerns that, over time, public compliance with social distancing measures is waning. People expressed concern at the number of people who are continuing to meet with friends and family, and people not being considerate to others in public spaces.

"Compliance with social distancing in shops is getting gradually poorer. More and more people feel comfortable pushing past others in close proximity."

There was a suggestion that people should be encouraged to report those who are not following the official advice and that a dedicated hotline should be created for this purpose. Others were also strongly opposed to encouraging local "whistleblowing".

In terms of travel restrictions, various contributors suggested there should be check points, and the police should be more active on the roads and checking reasons for journeys taken. Some commented on the perceived low presence of police cars on the roads and called for stronger presence.[18]

"… would be a visible sign that things are not back to normal yet and make people think twice about trips which are not necessary."

However, there was a lot of opposition to this idea. One contributor suggested people should be issued with letters that allow travel outside - whether to go to work or to the supermarket - and these should be readily displayed in car windows when parked.

Fines were often suggested as a key tool for enforcement - for example for not wearing face masks (if it was made mandatory), visiting friends/family, and non-essential journeys. It was suggested the revenues should be used to support the NHS. A small number suggested jail time, but others felt this to be unrealistic or excessive.

However, it was acknowledged that some measures would be difficult to enforce or police and many argued that "police have better things to do" and limited resources are better spent elsewhere (on "serious matters").

There were some differing views as regards the current restrictions, and whether these are "rules" or "guidance".

"We should have proper rules in place, not guidance."

Maintaining rights and freedoms

A number of respondents felt that there is a delicate balance between maintaining compliance, minimising transition, and the preservation of a number of rights and freedoms. Some of those not in favour of additional police powers or tighter enforcement referred to human rights, arguing that:

"It is important to remember that the powers the police have and the current lockdown are already extreme in terms of human rights and freedom of movements."

Measures such as police checkpoints on roads were suggested to be "a complete violation of a basic human right" and multiple contributors suggested they did not want to live in a "police state".

Some argued that they feel as if they are treated as "children" by a "nanny state", and were against a "penalty-based approach". A popular idea was for Scotland to follow the Swedish model and to allow for more individual freedoms as opposed to restrictions and enforcement - "[the Scottish Government] needs to follow the Swedish example and trust the people to look after themselves." Although the contributions in the thread were largely in agreement and in support of the Swedish model, others pointed out that Scotland and Sweden are not comparable (e.g. demographics, population density, single person households).

Maintaining public trust

It should be noted that many of those who advocated for tougher enforcement and policing did so on the basis that they thought that the public could not be trusted to abide by the restrictions.

"A lot of the public are proving that they can't be trusted, I came home to find 5 complete strangers partying in my garden. No permission, from 4 different households and 2 saying they were working as carers."

However, a key theme among many respondents was the need to maintain a sense of mutual trust between the government and public as it continued to make decisions.

Some argued that restrictions and advice had been complied with well so far. However, they felt that many were struggling to keep complying with the current restrictions, and were consequently becoming increasingly restless for changes.

There was a sense among some that "the public should and can be trusted" to act responsibly and have a greater amount of agency to choose how to act. For example, to "see each other in a safe way" or to behave appropriately if "all shops [were] open with social distancing measures in place."

Equally, some contributors expressed concerns that, should stricter or "more extreme" measures or too much policing be implemented at this stage, this would "breed resentment", "alienate the public" and lead to people "losing complete faith in the government."

"In order to maintain the trust of the Scottish people, the government needs to show that it trusts them. We are not stupid. We can follow the government advice without becoming prisoners in our own homes."

A number of respondents suggested that if Scotland allowed a little more freedom (some relaxation around outdoor activities, exercise, and social contact), this would help to reinforce a sense of mutual trust with the wider public. As a result, these small concessions would ultimately make people more likely to comply with the larger complement of restrictions in the longer term.

"If you want continued compliance then give us some autonomy back."

"Let's treat people with respect and trust and let them start getting back to a life that, whilst it might not be the same, is a least sustainable for the longer term."

A small number, however, expressed concern that some measures to ease lockdown may make it harder to police - for example policing "social bubbles" could be very difficult.



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