Pandemic Policing: public attitudes towards compliance and organisational resilience

Lead Research Organisation: University of Portsmouth
Department Name: Institute of Criminal Justice Studies


The UK's COVID-19 response has provided the police with new powers which potentially impinge upon civil liberties, altering the nature of policing activities. National policing bodies have encouraged a compliance not coercion approach based upon the 4 E's of Engage, Explain, Encourage and Enforce. In an innovative collaboration between the University of Portsmouth and Hampshire Constabulary, this research considers the impact of pandemic policing on the police and the public. It seeks to analyse the experiences of police officers and police leaders in exceptional circumstances and to explore the physical and psychological challenges of pandemic policing. This knowledge will provide evidence of i) organisational resilience, risk identification and effective decision-making, ii) strategies for the maintenance of future service delivery and iii) the impact of pandemic policing on police wellbeing. The research will also consider how the worldviews of individuals influence their perceptions of COVID-19 restrictions, their willingness to comply and key drivers of compliance/non-compliance which will shape the medium-long term police response. This knowledge will provide evidence of iv) effective policing in a crisis, v) public satisfaction/confidence in the police, vi) whether and for how long the public are willing to suspend their civil liberties and vii) factors that underlie any social/spatial variability. The link between perceptions of police legitimacy and willingness to comply means this understanding is crucial. Research findings will be scaled up into evidenced-based policing policies/practices nationally and its impact assessed and practices modified over the period of the crisis and beyond.


10 25 50
Description Data collection is ONGOING and these findings represent only a small part of the research.

1. Policing and the police environment have in recent years been transformed due to changes to crime types and harms plus the changing nature of police demand amidst reductions in police numbers. These challenges have come at the same time as a global pandemic began to sweep around the world in early 2020, with ongoing significant economic, health and social consequences. As part of a substantial research project on policing the pandemic, a public survey was conducted in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight in the south of England on people's perception of policing during the pandemic. Four questions provided the opportunity for participants to provide unlimited free-text responses of their perception of policing during the crisis. Responses were coded and then thematically analysed to identify any emergent themes concerning public compliance and policing during the lockdown. Subthemes surrounding communication, efficiency and equity emerged from participant's perceptions of what they considered to be 'satisfactory' and 'unsatisfactory' forms of policing during the pandemic. A common sub-theme of the public not being taken seriously and confusion over the role of the police were also countered by a public acknowledgement that the police were 'doing their best' in the crisis. The pandemic seemed to throw into sharper relief pre-crisis public perceptions of appropriate policing. In particular, the free-text responses highlighted the ongoing tensions between normative and instrumental approaches to policing and public expectations of police actions.

2. A survey of police officers and staff sought to understand police perceptions and experiences of implementing COVID-19 policing policies. The key findings of this survey were that:
a) Police staff are more positive than police officers about leadership, communications and flexibility within their organisation.
b) When considering scores on wellbeing, police staff scored most highly followed by police community support officers with police officers having the lowest scores on wellbeing.
c) There was a link between a longer length of service in the police and lower perceptions of wellbeing.
d) Those in more senior ranks in the police felt most positively about their safety and these perceptions fell in a linear progression down to the lowest rank of Constable.
e) Those in more senior ranks in the police felt most positively about their sense of 'belonging' and these perceptions fell in a linear progression down to the lowest rank of Constable.
f) In free text comments, police officers and staff expressed most positivity about changes to home working and the flexibility that brought plus the higher threshold to deploy to incidents.
g) Police officers and staff felt that the changed practices working least well were social distancing in offices, single crewing, IT support and for some, the adverse impacts arising from working at home.

To note: The research project also incorporates 80 interviews with the police and public, analysis of police body worn video footage of COVID-19 breaches, video diaries from police officers on the frontline and focus groups with senior police leaders. Results from these aspects of the project are currently being analysed and will be forthcoming soon. These focus on such issues as PPE, deployment, public perceptions of policing, police wellbeing, home working and enforcement.
Exploitation Route This research and its data collection is ongoing. However important findings are emerging in relation to a) the wellbeing and sense of belonging of police officers working on the frontline during the pandemic and b) the future relationship between the public and the police. Police legitimacy and public confidence in policing are vital components of the policing by consent model of policing within the UK and both are indicators of future compliance with the police. A thorough consideration of this data is therefore required for an understanding of how the impact of policing Covid-19 restrictions may have a future impact on these relationships. Policing services need to consider the impact of the findings on their workforce and also on the relationship between their organisation and the communities they serve. This will be particularly important for those groups who have been socially and economically affected most by Covid-19 but also by those who have felt the Covid-19 restrictions most noticeably. Dissatisfaction with the policing organisation can lead to lower levels of compliance, lower levels of crime reporting and lower levels of confidence. All of these can impact upon crime rates and crime victimisation.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description The findings have been submitted to the Home Affairs Select Committee on preparedness for Covid-19. Impact may therefore be forthcoming from this.
First Year Of Impact 2000
Description Senior Police Officer presentation and workshop - This event presented the initial findings of a study looking at the police response to Covid breaches, followed by a workshop discussion with departmental leads. The outcomes showed significant differences in police response to policing Covid breaches between lockdown 1 and lockdown 3 showing improvements in use of the 4Es (Engage, Explain, Encourage and Enforce). The organisational learning department used the findings to inform the wider force and to document how various interventions throughout each lockdown have developed. This is being used to target future training requirements, eradicate issues and refine the response to Covid breaches.
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description Written evidence submitted to Home Affairs Select Committee
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Description LSE blog post 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact A blog post to the LSE Covid-19 blog run by the School of Social Policy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
Description Presentation to London Policing Seminar Series 2021 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The Institute for Global City Policing at UCL and the Canterbury Centre for Policing Research at CCCU are jointly hosting a series of seminars in 2021. These events will explore a range of contemporary issues in policing, and will feature both academic and practitioner perspectives. There were over 300 delegates registered for this event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
Description Press release - public compliance 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This press release on public compliance with Covid-19 restrictions was released on 20th January 2021. It was reported on by the following news outlets:
The News (Portsmouth) Monthly Visitors: 1,496,777 (United Kingdom)
AboutMyArea Monthly Visitors: 37,457 (United Kingdom)
Mirage News Australia Monthly Visitors: 107,126 (Australia)
WalesOnline Monthly Visitors: 11,890,000 (United Kingdom)
BBC Radio 4 Audience: 11,332,000 (United Kingdom)
CoventryLive Monthly Visitors: 3,349,294 (United Kingdom
Hull Live Monthly Visitors: 1,024,000 (United Kingdom)
Heart Thames Valley Monthly Visitors: 923,000 (United Kingdom)
Heart South Coast Monthly Visitors: 923,000 (United Kingdom)
BBC Radio 2 Monthly Visitors: 428,339 (United Kingdom)
BBC Radio Manchester Audience: 266,000 (United Kingdom)
BBC Radio Cumbria Audience: 116,000 (United Kingdom)
BBC Radio Lincolnshire Audience: 102,000 (United Kingdom)
BBC Radio Gloucestershire Audience: 85,000 (United Kingdom)
BBC Norfolk Sport - BBC Radio Norfolk (United Kingdom)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
Description Radio Interview - Express FM 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Radio interview with Express FM to discuss results published in University of Portsmouth press release on 20th January 2021. Interview begins at 9 mins.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021