Police Message - Covid, People with Disabilities and Face Coverings

POLICE SCOTLANDMESSAGE TO
COMMUNITIES

Message from Assistant Chief Constable Gary Ritchie – 27 July
2020

Police Scotland is committed to keeping people safe and
protecting all our communities. We understand that daily life adhering to
coronavirus (COVID-19) guidelines continues to be challenging for everyone. 

Although Scottish Government guidance has provided
flexibility for the individual needs of disabled people, we recognise this has
not prevented some people becoming fearful of going out into their communities.
We are aware some disabled people have reported being unfairly challenged and,
on occasion, abused about issues linked to social distancing and face
coverings. 

Our partners have shared concerns that some disabled people
can find physical distancing difficult - this could be linked to sight loss,
autism, a physical disability or other issues. People have reported being
shouted at, made to feel uncomfortable or fearful. 

We have also received reports of people who are exempt from
wearing face coverings being inappropriately challenged in shops or on public
transport. This includes people who have invisible or hidden disabilities, like
asthma or autism.

There are several exemptions in the guidance for people who
cannot wear face coverings. A full list can be found on the Scottish Government
website. Exemptions included are:

•      you have a health condition or you are disabled and a face covering would be inappropriate
because it would cause difficulty, pain or severe distress or anxiety, or
because you cannot apply a covering and wear it safely and consistently in the
proper manner. Individual discretion should be applied in considering the use
of face coverings for children and young people, for example, children with
breathing difficulties and disabled children who would struggle to wear a face
covering

•      you need to eat or drink

•      you are taking medication

•      you are communicating with someone who relies on lip reading.

Police Scotland wants to reassure disabled communities that
we take reports of people being targeted seriously. We would encourage the
public to consider the implications of coronavirus (COVID-19) guidelines on
disabled communities before challenging people. 
We want to prevent these incidents occurring and to ensure disabled
people feel safe in their communities.

We will continue to work with the Scottish Government and
other partners to ensure the public is aware of issues which directly affect
disabled communities. 

Police Scotland has circulated guidance to frontline police
officers and staff to ensure they consider disabilities when engaging with
people, particularly given the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) measures.

We understand some disabled people may choose to carry a
card or wear a lanyard stating they have exemptions from wearing face coverings
or to identify a disability. Individuals are under absolutely no obligation to
carry information or to show it to anyone. Police Scotland officers will not
ask you to provide any evidence of an exemption or disability. We will support
your right to do this if it makes you feel more confident going about your
daily life and will ensure we consider this if you choose to disclose this information. 

Police Scotland’s policing style response to coronavirus
(COVID-19) continues to be based on a desire to work together and ensure
everyone’s safety with enforcement of legislation a last resort. Our approach
will continue to be:

•      Engage to establish the individual’s circumstances and if they are aware of guidelines
in place. 

•      Explain the risks to public health and to the NHS in line with government guidelines.

•      Encourage voluntary compliance.

•      Enforce only if officers are faced with non-compliance and as a last resort.

In the coming weeks and months, we urge everyone to
continue to work together, ensuring no person or group in Scotland feels
marginalised or isolated. 

Police Scotland does not tolerate the targeting of
individuals or communities, or any form of hate crime. Should anyone experience
or witness such an incident please report it. 

You can contact Police Scotland by:

•      dialling 101, or 999 in an emergency

•      via SMS 999 – you must register for this service before using it

•      using Text Relay using the BT Relay UK app or textphone

•      you can also use our online hate crime reporting form on the Police Scotland
website. 

•      Hate Crime can also be reported via one of our third party reporting centres. More
information on third party reporting can be
found on our Police Scotland website