The car pulls into the checkpoint: a couple in front, kids in the back.

They look drawn, anxious.

The police officer asks them the same question he's put to hundreds of motorists already today - what's your reason for being out?

He's expecting them to say they're heading to the shops.

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He's expecting to remind them that under the national lockdown, ideally just one person from a bubble goes to the supermarket at once.

He's expecting to instruct them that once they get there, just one person does the shop while the rest stay in the car, then straight home.

But their story is nothing he expected.

Police wearing protective equipment talk to drivers heading north of Auckland yesterday. Photo / Dean Purcell
Police wearing protective equipment talk to drivers heading north of Auckland yesterday. Photo / Dean Purcell

Their baby died recently and they are heading to Auckland to pick up the ashes.

They cannot have a funeral, they cannot mourn with whānau but at the very least they want baby's ashes home with them.

Technically, the officer explains, they are breaking the rules.

But after speaking to them further he decides to let them travel on.

Since March 26, much has been made of police powers and discretion when it comes to what people can and cannot due under the lockdown rules.

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Police stop and talk to a driver at a checkpoint in Hawke's Bay. Photo / NZME
Police stop and talk to a driver at a checkpoint in Hawke's Bay. Photo / NZME

But when you see it in action it's clear that officers are making good decisions based on unique circumstances during an unprecedented time.

"You have to have compassion - let them know that technically they are breaking the law, but apply a bit of common sense," says the officer.

"Only one of them should have driven to get the ashes - maybe two so they had emotional support.

"They shouldn't have taken the kids but what else could they do with them? And the kids are grieving, too.

"It's all right writing the rules down but they just don't cover every scenario we're going to find out here."

Earlier this week, new police Commissioner Andrew Coster - who marked a week in the top job yesterday - announced there would be checkpoints across the country over the long weekend.

The fear was that people would try to scarper to baches and holiday homes for an Easter "break".

Aside from the potential of spreading Covid-19 by travelling, there is the huge risk of crashes that would necessarily tie up already stretched emergency services and frontline hospital staff.

"We know many New Zealanders may have been planning to catch up with friends and family this weekend or travel to traditional holiday destinations but we urge anyone who was planning to do this - please change your plans and stay home," he said.

"To help ensure people know about the Health Act restrictions, police will be out and about checking that people are travelling for essential purposes only.

"It's simple - travelling to and from different towns and cities risks spreading Covid-19 and puts lives at risk."

The Weekend Herald spent the morning at a police checkpoint yesterday, Good Friday, speaking to police tasked with enforcing the lockdown rules and hearing from people about why they were out.

With supermarkets closed, the reasons for being away from home were vastly reduced.

Sergeant Andrew Wallace and his officers from the Waitematā Road Policing Team were out - masks and gloves donned- and ready to roll just after 9am.

At two checkpoints the day before they'd turned just three people around and sent them home, including a man driving "up north" for a surf.

There were no breach arrests, no warnings issued and no problems.

One of the first drivers stopped yesterday was a woman heading north to pick up her kids.

She explained that she was an essential worker and had sent her children to stay with their grandmother when the lockdown started.

She was on her way to pick them up and take them home.

No, sorry.

The rules are clear - where you were at 11.59pm on Wednesday, March 25 is where you effectively need to stay for the entire lockdown period.

An officer told her she had to turn back, the kids had to stay put.

Minutes later another woman was stopped coming the other direction.

The fact she wasn't wearing a seatbelt was just part of the reason she was given a scolding.

She told the officer who stopped her she was going to the petrol station "to get body wash".

He let her pass but not without a stern reminder.

"Just think about what we mean when we say essential … don't do this again, go straight there and straight home. Stay home."

The people who got through without any problems - the woman delivering fresh fruit and veges to her mum who lives alone.

"I'm not going in, just dropping them off," she said as she was waved on her way.

The man on his way back to Whangārei from dropping some Canadian paramedics off at Auckland Airport for their long-awaited flight home.

"I've got their boarding passes right here," he said, adding it was a "straight there, straight back trip".

The elderly couple on their way home after one spent a night in Auckland City Hospital.

They looked exhausted, were keen to keep moving and get back to their own bubble.

The man going to drop his toddler off to her mother - part of their shared custody agreement.

"I've got the court letter here," he said, waving the white sheet as the wee girl waved at
the police officer.

"You have to take people at face value," one officer said.

Stop: Police checking in with motorists near Warkworth on Good Friday. Photo / Dean Purcell
Stop: Police checking in with motorists near Warkworth on Good Friday. Photo / Dean Purcell

"You get a vibe when they stop though, you know if they are telling the truth.

"Some people just take the piss."

Wallace said by and large people were being pretty good - they knew the rules, why they were in place and why they needed to stay home.

"The main things we are seeing in terms of people not being compliant is groups of people heading off to the supermarket or going shopping when really one person should be doing that job," he said.

"We had one person making his way up from Orewa, which is 20 minutes away from here [the checkpoint], to take his dog for a walk at Omaha.

"We were wondering whether the beach in Orewa was still there…"

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Wallace said most people stopped were on their way to buy food and supplies.

"There's usually just one person in the car," he said, approvingly.

"We use a graduated response - engagement, education and then enforcement - and most people are very supportive we are out there doing this, they want to see us out there enforcing it."

As the lockdown - in place for at least four weeks but open to extension - passed the 14 day mark, the number of cases of new coronavirus patients was dropping.

But that did not mean police would ease off.

In fact, even after the long weekend there will be checkpoints and vehicle stops
happening regularly.

"The number is tracking down but we cannot get complacent," said Wallace.

"It's like a game of rugby - getting into the halftime break with a big lead; you want to come out for the second half and still play hard and strong.

"You can only do that and win if everyone plays their part."

Give me a reason: Cops question drivers about why they are out of their homes during the national lockdown. Photo / Dean Purcell
Give me a reason: Cops question drivers about why they are out of their homes during the national lockdown. Photo / Dean Purcell

Wallace said times were challenging for police and the public and he was proud of how both sides were pulling together to make it through the pandemic and save lives.

"We want to keep the foot on the throat though, we don't want to be complacent," he said.

"But of course we have to use common sense - the Government set out what people can and cannot do but that doesn't cover every eventuality so we've just got to apply a little common sense.

"This is serious business."

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website