Crime in Wiltshire has fallen by more than a quarter since the lockdown began, the county’s chief constable said.

Kier Pritchard, the Swindon-raised officer who took on the top job in 2018, said the number of thefts reported to Wiltshire Police since the end of March had fallen by 57 per cent and burglaries were down by 35 per cent.

Officers have handed out 129 fines to people caught flouting the coronavirus regulations by being outside their home without a reasonable excuse. There had been 10 Covid-19 related assaults, with people apparently suffering from the virus coughing or spitting at others.

Mr Pritchard told the Adver: “The lion’s share of the public have abided by the rules really well. We have, of course, have had to deal with some people who have blatantly abused the rules, whether it’s opening a pub for a lock-in or it’s spitting or coughing deliberately at officers and staff members.”

Despite concerns last month that up to a third of his 2,200-strong workforce would be off work either sick or self-isolating, the police chief said just five per cent of staff and officers were absent and only a small proportion were self-isolating due to the virus.

“It’s dramatically changed the way that we have policed in our community,” he said.

“There have been some really great examples of communities rallying around to support each other in a virtual space. The relationship with the police and the community has been by and large really positive.

“Policing is about delivering with communities and as part of a community and not doing to. I think that a crisis such as this enables people to revaluate what’s important in life.

“I’ve wanted to set a really clear style and tone across the force which is about policing with consent.

“It’s about policing using common sense, good judgement and professionalism, knowing that every interaction we have will have a knock on how that individual and wider community will view policing both today in the moment but also in the future.”

Nationally, criticism has been levelled at police forces for what some have called a heavy-handed approach to policing the lockdown, using drones to video people walking in the Peak District and stopping dog walkers.

Over the weekend Lancashire Police apologised after video emerged of one of their officers apparently claimed he would “make something up” to arrest a man stopped as part of a group with a quad bike. The officer has been suspended.

Mr Pritchard said he was “acutely aware” of negative stories about the policing response. He admitted Wiltshire Police had made some mistakes, referring to a notice produced within days of Boris Johnson announcing the lockdown and which told people they could not drive to beauty spots and could only take certain forms of exercise. The claims were not supported by the Coronavirus Regulations.

“We tried to translate very fast, emergency legislation which has created incredible and unprecedented restrictions upon the private lives and family lives of us all,” he said.

“In some ways there has been a confusion between the intent of the government around guidelines of what they would like us to do and not to do and then the legislation which enables policing to enforce the law and the rules and the only thing policing can do is enforce the law so the emergency legislation.

“It’s taken some time for the examples of what for instance is a reasonable excuse for a member of the public to be outside their house to be worked through by the Crown Prosecution Service and then be translated into guidelines which we’ve had delivered to us by the College of Policing.

“There was quite a clear gap between when the emergency legislation came in overnight and when the guidelines came out. Therefore, it was left to interpretation between all the guidance available on the government website and the law.”

His officers were following what he termed the four Es: “We look to engage with people outside their home, we explain the importance of following the rules to protect the NHS and save lives, we look to encourage people to return home and if necessary if all those warnings have not delivered the outcome we have the power to enforce.”

Since the lockdown began his officers have handed out 129 fixed penalty notices - £60 fines – to those flouting freedom of movement regulations.

Last week, the Deer’s Leap pub in Penhill was given a prohibition order requiring it to close after police were called to a lock-in. A woman found at the pub was arrested after it was alleged she assaulted police officers.

“I’ve looked at each of the fixed-penalty notices we’ve issued. And against the country that is by no means excessive,” he said.

While crime generally has fallen, the chief constable said the force had seen some worrying trends.

Domestic violence reports are up. However, immediately after the lockdown was announced the number of reports fell. That worried officers, who feared victims stuck at home with their abusers weren’t able to get help.

“People shouldn’t suffer in silence whether they’re male, female or a child,” Mr Pritchard said.

Fraud had gone up and police have seen internet predators targeting children and young people online. This month, the National Crime Agency warned forces after men were arrested abroad for pressuring a 10-year-old girl in England to send sexually-explicit images of herself, warning that if she didn’t they would send a parcel to her home laced with coronavirus and infect her family.

County Lines drug dealers have had to change their business models in order to respond to fewer people on the London mainline and M4 – and a corresponding rise in the number of police patrolling transport routes between the capital and Swindon.

Drug prices are spiralling and the police have already seen drugs being cut with other substances. Mr Pritchard said his officers were working closely with Public Health England to monitor drug-related deaths. There had been one or two more drug deaths since the lockdown began than they would otherwise have expected in a normal year,