06 July 2020

Researching the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has stimulated new research activity relating to its impact on policing, crime patterns and some of the wider social and public health issues. Summaries of several of these projects can be found on our Research Map. 

​The Policing and Crime Reduction Research Map, first launched in 2014, is designed to facilitate sharing of ongoing relevant research to promote collaboration. Shared summaries, provided by the researchers, are used to create individual project pages which are visible on the Map until completion. All of these projects are carried out by universities or in conjunction with them, either as a professional research programme or as a post-graduate level qualification.  When projects are completed, map contributors are invited to share a copy of their final report with the National Police Library to ensure that valuable research is catalogued and adds to the body of knowledge about policing and crime reduction. Throughout the pandemic, researchers have contacted the College to share details of their prospective COVID-19 related projects.  Wherever possible, we have encouraged them to add their work to the Map, showing the diversity of research carried out by a range of academic disciplines, on the policing and public health impacts of the pandemic.  

Changes to patterns of crime during the pandemic have been identified by several research projects. The University of Leeds with University College London, led by Professor Graham Farrell, aims to draw on crime science to examine the unanticipated crime harms of COVID-19 policies. Because lockdown requires people to stay at home, the researchers anticipated increases in offences related to domestic abuse and child abuse. Social distancing has meant that police are arresting fewer suspects and that support services have been reduced during times of greater need. Social changes during COVID-19 have provided fraudsters with 'conversation starters' to approach people in-person, via text, email and online. Remote working and virtual leisure activities, furloughs and financial difficulties, have provided more potential targets for online crimes of various types. This project will focus on COVID-19 related crime harms identified by analysis of crime data and other sources over three periods: short term such as domestic abuse, medium term linked to policy-led exit strategies and longer term 'post-crisis' harms. Analysis following the crisis stage of the pandemic will examine whether strategies for some already declining crimes, such as burglary, may be sustained as inadvertent social gains.  

Domestic abuse over the period of the pandemic is the focus of a number of research projects. Professor Sandra Walklate from the University of Liverpool is working with the N8 Policing Research Partnership, to lead a research project about what they refer to as the 'shadow pandemic'. It will evaluate the efficacy of policy and practice innovations by both the police and courts to deal with the immediate crisis, and explore their viability for future practice in the face of ongoing service demands, including the fiscal impact and longer-term consequences of the global pandemic. City, University of London with Durham University, led by Dr Katrin Hohl, are undertaking a project on responding to the Covid-19 domestic abuse crisis by using data from seven police forces to track the impact of the pandemic on domestic abuse, analysing changes in risk factors, frequency, nature and the profile of incidents reported to police. The project will map recorded incidents against the changes in restrictions imposed during lockdown, transitional phases and post-lockdown, when domestic abuse and calls to police are expected to spike. Data analysis will be combined with phone interviews with police officers, to identify emerging challenges and best practice in the frontline response to domestic abuse. 

Other projects also focus on particular types of crime such as the University of Nottingham's study of the criminal exploitation of children and implications of pandemic for county lines which is led by Dr Ben Brewster. This project will examine the social economics of child exploitation and the implications of COVID-19 on county lines drug supply more generally. Using data from statutory and voluntary agencies using a combination of quantitative and qualitative data, this project examines the impact of social distancing measures on offenders' abilities to groom, alternative methods used to mobilise 'county lines' operations, and the prevention, detection and safeguarding abilities of police and other organisations.

Some of the projects will focus on operational aspects of responding to the pandemic. One project, shared by a PhD student from the University of Sussex, addresses working together during major incidents and emergencies and optimising interoperability in collaboration with Public Health England. It will include interviews and discussion groups with representatives from police, fire and rescue, ambulance services and local authorities to understand how the response to COVID-19 developed and changed over time. Keele University, led by Professor Cliff Stott, with Public Health England and a number of academic partners, are embarking on a social psychology study to understand the security and civil contingency response to the pandemic and enforcement. One element of this work will examine police and other responders' working practices with each other and the public, where procedural fairness and cooperation may be difficult to achieve when facilitating adherence to COVID-19 policies and rules. This will use ethnographic interviews and enforcement data to understand how responder actions impact on community relations, adherence and social tensions. The research will also focus on the impact of collective identification on adherence, the role of leadership in developing collective identification, and how coverage of others' positive or negative behaviours (e.g. volunteering vs. stockpiling) impacts on collective identity and adherence to preventative measures. Emergent community support groups have been critical in complementing the response of official agencies, but these groups tend to decline over time. In the case of Covid-19, this research will examine the factors that enable these groups to endure and the impact of participating in them.

You can find more pandemic-related research by using the new COVID-19 filter. Research Map contributors cite a number of benefits of sharing their ongoing work. To date, the Map includes over 230 projects with 13 new COVID-19 submissions.  The Map has facilitated data and ideas sharing, supported the identification of knowledge gaps and helped to shape research questions, assisted in searches for peer reviewers and puts practitioners, students and academics in contact over mutual interests. To share your project – whether related to the pandemic or other policing and crime reduction issues - check our criteria and find our online form here.


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