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Crime and coronavirus

In extraordinary times, such as during the coronavirus outbreak, we will see the true colours of people, and the institutions that they work for. The same goes for criminals, as much as the law-abiding. For while much was made of the reports that those over-70 with underlying health conditions may be told to self-isolate, for up to four months, if only an appeal was made to criminals, to self-isolate for the duration!?

That may sound foolish or facetious, for criminals prey on the rest of society; because they do not have the ethics of the rest of us. The online scams are already exploiting the coronavirus. Organised criminals will still travel the country doing crime; addicts will still steal from shops because they need to sell the stolen goods to feed their addiction. In fairness, if that is how criminals make their living, what else are they supposed to do?!

Commentators and official advice alike have said that, if possible, people ought to work from home and avoid social contact that raises the risk of spread of disease; except that criminals are hardly going to oblige by staying at home. Quite the opposite, they will take what chances they see to carry out acquisitive crime. Security officers, like prison and police officers, and care providers and others in the service sector, will have to

Which makes one of the only two references in the Government’s ‘action plan‘ (so much more stirring than a mere ‘plan’) to police so jarring. If transmission of the virus becomes established in the UK population, ‘the nature and scale of the response will change’, according to the official document. The chief focus will be to ‘provide essential services’. In other words, normal life and public services will go by the wayside; we will see what those in authority truly regard as most important.

The emergency services, ‘including the police and fire and rescue services will enact business continuity plans to ensure they are able to maintain a level of service that fulfils their critical functions. For example, with a significant loss of officers and staff, the police would concentrate on responding to serious crimes and maintaining public order’. It all depends on what is defined as ‘serious’. For as police are already as a matter of course not responding at all, or only after a delay that makes tracing of the offender impossible, such volume crimes as burglary, online fraud, and thefts against retailers and other businesses, perhaps police response in the ‘challenge’ of a widespread virus will not look so very different.

The reference to public order is significant. It implies, sadly, that once again the authorities’ default assumption is that society will break down as soon as things get tough; just as in 1939, needless to say in secret, the British Army was training and assuming that it would have to draw bayonets to quell hysteric Londoners jamming main railway stations as they tried to flee German bombing on the outbreak of the Second World War. And in more secret planning for a Third, nuclear, war, the authorities proposed that at least some police in each force would hunker down for 14 days (‘self isolate’ from the bombs and their radiation) and then form ‘columns’ to drive around and impose ‘order’.

Intriguingly, the reality is that when society does face a ‘challenge’ (to use a word in the ‘action plan’), such as flooding of a town, or an act of terror, especially if it doesn’t happen in office hours as kept by local government, the first and most vital response is not by people in uniform, but by civilians, and indeed SIA-badged front-line security staff; police and other 999 services may be held back by controllers. A most notorious example was the deliberate holding back of Manchester firefighters on the night of the Manchester Arena terror attack in 2017. So much for response to something ‘serious’.

As for the other reference in the action plan: “New regulations introduced in England under public health legislation provide new powers for medical professionals, public health professionals and the police to allow them to detain and direct individuals in quarantined areas at risk or suspected of having the virus.” In other words, without parliamentary scrutiny, the authorities have taken on extraordinary powers. Even the Defence of the Realm Act in 1940 that gave the British government dictatorial powers over people and property, due to the crisis of a likely German invasion, went through Parliament.


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