POLICE powers and their discretionary use have been much in the news lately following the decision of the Derbyshire Constabulary to apologise and quash the £200 fines issued to Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore who were penalised after meeting up for a walk at Foremark Reservoir.

At the time that the penalties were issued, the police insisted that driving to exercise was "not in the spirit" of the most recent lockdown.

Undoubtedly the police are doing their absolute best to protect public safety during what is a critical time of the pandemic, but the public should rightly expect a proportionate and balanced approach, taking full consideration of individual circumstances.

The approach initially adopted by the Derbyshire force contrasts with that taken by a police officer in Somerset, in Massachusetts in the US, just before Christmas but which only emerged recently.

The officer in question was Patrolman Matt Lima who was called upon to attend to a case of suspected shoplifting at a supermarket after security guards saw two women with two young children not scanning all of their shopping at the self-checkout.

When Mr Lima arrived, he took one woman aside to talk to her while supermarket staff distracted the children. He found out they had fallen on hard times, that the mother of the two kids had no job, and were trying to steal so they could give the children Christmas dinner.

Lima checked the receipt, and said: "There was nothing else on there like health and beauty items, shampoo, anything like that. It was all food.”

Having established all the circumstances, the officer took the decision not to charge the women.

Instead, he handed them a notice not to trespass and then bought them $250 (£178) worth of gift cards with his own money so they could get food for Christmas.

He said: “I just tried to put myself in that family’s shoes and show a little bit of empathy. The two children with the women reminded me of my kids, so I had to help them out.”

There is little doubt that Matt Lima’s approach to the situation was out of the ordinary.

He said: "They were very thankful, they were kind of shocked. I'm sure a lot of people in that same situation would be thinking that there was going to be a different outcome, and maybe they would be arrested or have to go to court.”

Living through a pandemic is proving to be a challenge for many people.

The necessary balance between life-saving compliance and daily life is likely to come before the police many times in the coming weeks. In their considerations they could do a lot worse – and avoid the mistakes of the Derbyshire force – by adopting Officer Lima’s approach to put themselves in another’s shoes and show a little empathy.

L Arun Arora is the vicar of St Nicholas’ Church, Durham