Understanding changing demand for police during the coronavirus pandemic

Research Institution / Organisation

University of Manchester

In Collaboration With

Dr Matt Ashby, Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science; University of Manchester; Karen Byrom and Alexander McMillan from Cheshire Constabulary

Principal Researcher

Dr Reka Solymosi

Level of Research

Professional / Work-based

Project Start Date

October 2020

Research Context

​COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges in the UK and globally. Police have seen new tasks emerge, such as enforcement of restrictions on public gatherings or shielding of vulnerable staff. At the same time, changes in people’s routine activities altered by government restrictions on movement meant changing patterns of crime. The early days of lockdown saw much speculation about these effects on crime and policing, however, not always supported by data. For example, the United States saw no significant changes in the frequency of serious assaults in public, contrary to the concerns of media and policy makers. Other changes have been supported, such as shifts in the types of locations where crimes were happening (e.g. reductions in residential burglary but little change in non-residential burglary). An evidence-based understanding of how demand on police changed in time, place, and nature is important to provide guidance for forces as new restrictions are imposed to control the spread of COVID-19.

To achieve this, we will analyse how demand for policing, as measured by calls for service, changed during the different stages of the pandemic in the UK, including the pre-lockdown period, the full lockdown beginning on 23 March 2020 and the progressive relaxation of restrictions over time. While previous studies have looked at changes in crime associated with coronavirus, only a minority of calls for service result in a crime being recorded and so much police time is spent servicing non-crime demand. This includes dealing with mental health incidents, anti-social behaviour, missing people and traffic collisions, all of which were influenced by the pandemic. These calls are particularly important because they relate to protecting vulnerable people, who may have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and government responses to it (e.g. the suspension of some services, potentially displacing demand onto police).

Research Methodology

​Understanding relationships between COVID-19 restrictions and demand on police time requires some estimate of how much crime would be expected to occur in the absence of the pandemic. This is difficult because so many factors influence how much crime occurs, and year-to-date or month by month comparisons do not adequately account for these. To better estimate the expected frequency of various calls which would have happened in the absence of the pandemic, seasonal auto-regressive integrated moving average (SARIMA) models of the frequency of different call types between 1 January 2015 and the frst confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom can be used. We can then compare these projected trends to what was actually observed, and can begin to imagine how the lockown at different stages influenced changes in demand.

The quantitative results will be supplemented by interviews with police contact management staff and managers, to understand the variety of their experience and develop potential explanations for the patterns identified by the SARIMA models.

Interim reports and publications

​Not available

Date due for completion

October 2021
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