VOLUNTEERS could be asked to step forward and help the police as the coronavirus crisis deepens, Wiltshire’s Chief Constable said.

There is little information on what the volunteers could be doing or when it might be launched. Kier Pritchard, who leads Wiltshire Police, said the scheme is being worked on at a national level.

It came as more than 400,000 signed up after Health Secretary Matt Hancock issued a clarion call on Tuesday for people to register their interest in becoming NHS volunteers, driving people to hospital appointments and checking on those self-isolating at home.

Speaking to the Adver, Mr Pritchard said he was already taking steps to try and cushion the impact of coronavirus on his force.

Front desks at police stations across the county were closed on Wednesday, with people encouraged to call non-emergency line 101.

Emergency call handlers have been divided between police headquarters in Devizes and Swindon’s Gablecross police station, meaning that if one 999 operator becomes sick in won’t cripple the force’s ability to answer calls. Despite the challenges, the emergency calls were still being answered in under five seconds.

The police chief said he had been contacted by a number of former colleagues keen to return to work as a special constable or volunteer. The force was checking the financial implications that might have.

Efforts to bring more volunteers into the police were unlikely to begin in earnest overnight. Mr Pritchard said: “At the moment we are managing with the resource levels that we’ve got. If we go forward a few weeks and if we’re mirroring Italy, the levels of abstraction [of officers] may start to peak.

“If we have seen further stringent measures from the UK Government then the role of policing may become more enforcement.”

For now, the chief constable said officers would be trying to persuade people to follow government rules about staying indoors – rather than threatening to fine them.

Mr Pritchard said: “If we see groups or three or more we will look to have a conversation, engage and disperse those groups because of the public health risk.

“If people flagrantly wish to abuse the rules and regulations, when the Coronavirus Bill is passed police will have the power to enforce. Do I want my officers to go out and enforce this day in day out? No, of course I don’t.

“What I don’t want is for members of the public to be unnecessarily criminalised through the issuing of a fine.”

He called on people to be a “beacon of citizenship”, abide by the rules and help their neighbours.