Cambridge police is following the great tradition of getting the public to police one another, which has been an effective measure at points throughout history and has had no negative ramifications or any problems related to morality or ethics at all.
The problem - as the force seems to have anticipated - is that people are all too happy to gleefully report one another for any kind of minor infringement at the best of times, so rallying them up on behalf of the police is going to further inflate their misguided sense of righteousness. Considering the fact that we're in lockdown precisely because people couldn't grasp the concept of isolation (failings of the government and at a individual level), trusting that the public will use this form properly and responsibly is bloody stupid, frankly.
There are people out there who still haven't figured out what the hell is going on, and those who are just as uninformed but fall on the other side of the spectrum thinking no one's allowed to go anywhere. This stems from not familiarising themselves with what are very simple and straightforward rules; rules that have had to be reissued in the hopes that people actually take a moment to comprehend them. These same people are now being directed to a report any breaches of the current lockdown to the police, presumably because they're either already tying up phone lines whenever someone jogs past their window to report a violation, or because the police are incapable of doing their job properly.
Whether the latter is through a lack of appropriate resources or because they know how much a contingent of the population love to stick their beaks into other people's business and will happily throw their friends and neighbours under the bus for a gold star, is largely irrelevant. Private citizens shouldn't be called upon to actively do this type of thing under any circumstance.
We have now developed an online form allowing you to report individuals breaching COVID-19 restrictions via our website: https://t.co/Py1dDupAt5. Please do not call 101 to report breaches. Thank you for supporting the #StayHomeStaySafe message 👍 pic.twitter.com/8rBxyZdmbt
— Cambs police (@CambsCops) April 7, 2020
The landing page for the form lets you report a business, individual, or instance of fraud, and reads:
"We're seeking to resolve situations where people appear to be or are contravening the government advice on physical social distancing and the stay at home measures without resorting to enforcement and issuing fines.
"Only use this form if there is a significant issue or breach which you think we need to know about. This may be a large gathering or a large group of individuals repeatedly ignoring the restrictions.
"Do not use this form to report minor infringements."
The only option that actually allows you to get anywhere is reporting individuals, and you have to answer a series of yes/no questions before you get to the form itself. If the incident is happening at the time of submission, and there's actual danger involved - defined as "violence and/or threatening behaviour" you'll be directed to call 999. If you get stopped in your tracks because the incident you're reporting doesn't qualify, you can actually loop back and change your answers until you get access to the form, at which point you'll be presented with a message that pinpoints exactly what it is the police are after:
"If you believe a person or group of people have breached the safety measures put in place for COVID-19, you can use this form to report it. You should only use this form if the incident happened more than 30 minutes ago.
"The information you submit will be used to support proactive policing and tracking of enforcement activity. We will not reply directly to any individual reports but ask for your details in case we need further information. This form takes about 10 minutes to complete."
So actual policing, mobile tracking, privacy breaching apps aren't enough apparently. The reaction to Cambridge police's tweet have been mixed, with some people recognising how insidious this is, and others thinking it's just everyone pitching in together to make sure all the naughty people are dragged off for a wrist slap. In a larger context, police nationwide have been implementing their own measures to deal with the lockdown - none of which were sanctioned powers in the Coronavirus Act, so clearly the inability to take simple instruction extends to the police. There was such an abuse of power that they also had to be reissued the guidelines they should be following. But I'm sure they'll use this information responsibly.
Feature image credit: Unsplash