British Academy backs research into COVID policing

Following the tragic killing of George Floyd in America, questions of police legitimacy and police malpractice are being debated internationally.

Such debate has included the police enforcement of COVID-19 lockdown and social distancing measures. To what extent have these discussions impacted on public views on the legitimacy of our local force – Merseyside Police?

This is the focus of a new study funded by the British Academy to be carried out by Liverpool Centre for Advanced Policing (LJMU).

Led by Dr Laura Boulton, who is supported by Dominique Walker and Dr Michelle McManus, the 12-month study will survey public and officers’ perceptions of police powers under The Coronavirus Act 2020 and carry out analysis of COVID-related arrests and powers in Merseyside.

Policing by consent

Laura explains: “Traditional UK policing relies on Peelian principles of policing by consent in which public views of police legitimacy are based on transparency about their powers, integrity in exercising powers and accountability for doing so.”

In the US, with discussion of police brutality and systematic racism has come distrust towards the police in relation to the disproportionality of their responses to COVID-19. For example, images have been shared of NYPD’s use of force in response to social gatherings in black communities like Brownsville, Brooklyn, and compared to how officers handed out masks to white people congregating in parks in the West Village, Manhattan.

“Such tensions can generate public disorder, as it did in Paris, while there is a danger that increased enforcement activity may generate defiance,” Laura explains.

Furthermore in the UK, new police powers to enforce lockdown have raised fears that the BAME community might be disproportionately targeted as it has been with stop-and-search powers.

Sharing findings

“By understanding the impact of these measures to date, we hope to help inform initiatives which generate, support or change policy in order to encourage public engagement and restore trust during and after COVID-19 restrictions,” says Laura.

As well as academic outputs, the findings will made available to Merseyside Police to highlight the implications for policing at the local and national level. An executive summary will also be made available to other UK Police forces, the Home Office and the College of Policing. A workshop for practitioners, partners and members of the public will also be organised to reflect on results and develop next steps.


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