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Face masks: ‘Society needs to police itself’

Borough commander doesn't want to tie up officers on new coronavirus rule

23 July, 2020 — By Richard Osley

Chief Superintendant Raj Kohli

CAMDEN’S borough commander does not want officers tied up policing new mandatory rules on the wearing of face coverings in shops.

The government’s coronavirus order comes into effect from tomorrow (Friday), forcing some people to wear a mask for the first time since the outbreak began.

But asked who would enforce the rule, Camden’s chief superintendant Raj Kohli said “society needs to police itself”.

Speaking at the council’s Covid-19 Oversight Committee on Tuesday, he also said that officers would be worried about being accused of “racial profiling” if they were sent out to make sure every shopper had their face covered.

Anybody who refuses to wear a covering could be fined up to £100, but some retailers have said already the rule is unenforcable in practice.

“I find myself in a really difficult space here because the legitimacy of policing has been questioned since the beginning of Covid, since it was suggested we would patrol the aisles of Tesco checking whose bought too much bread,” Ch Supt Kohli told councillors.

“Do I really want to put officers into that space, where they might be challenging BAME [Black and Minority Ethnic] members of the community and everything that gets associated with that? We police by consent. We have to expect the public will take their lead from the government.”

He said officers would intervene if there was disorder in shops, but added: “I’m not sure we want to pursue the not wearing of masks.”

Ch Supt Kohli said he had himself “invited many a person off a train” for not wearing a face covering on public transport while off duty. But he said it had already been seen that some social distancing measures were not being policed.

“The reality is that since the easing of lockdown, we’ve seen hundreds of people cramped up into Soho, the West End, any number of other places – do we police them? Probably not the way the government might want us to police them, as it’s a really difficult area,” he said.

“We are not being asked to police them. If I was asked do I want to police them, I’d say ‘no, I’d rather stop a teenage boy being murdered’ if I’m absolutely honest.”

He said he was wary of policing some gatherings, telling the cross-party committee: “I put the officers in that position where they are accused of racial profiling, so they step away from that and say ‘is it worth the hassle for some legislation that invites a £90 fine’, if it even gets that far.”

Ch Supt Kohli said: “I still think society needs to police itself in terms of Covid.” London Mayor Sadiq Khan was urging shoppers this week not to wait until the rule came into force.

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