Coronavirus (COVID-19): international policing responses - part 2 - easing of lockdown

This review (part 2) considers international policing approaches and responses during the easing of lockdown (up to 15 June 2020) and future considerations.

Further Information and Discussion

More detail is provided here on some of the issues explored in this report.

Effective partnership working

This review sought to find examples of effective partnership working between the Police and others in response to COVID-19. Whilst some examples have been found, it is likely that others exist, but were not discovered in the timescales that this review was undertaken.

The importance of effective partnership working between the police and other organisations has been highlighted by organisations such as The Policy Exchange, who at the start of the pandemic published Policing a pandemic - The challenges of maintaining law and order during the Coronavirus response.[218] This made recommendations based on a number of predictions about the nature of crime as a result of the pandemic. One recommendation was that the Government should engage Third Sector and Civil Society organisations and devise a national strategy for sustaining strong levels of mental health and well-being across the country and in order to prevent increases in domestic abuse.[219]

"The pandemic has strengthened, if not accelerated, the need for more collaborative ways of working and partnerships within and across the public and private sectors, moving towards a more inclusive approach that embeds societal responsibility".[220]

Trust and the relationship between the public and police

In the medium and long-term, experts are concerned about how police behaviour during the COVID-19 outbreak will affect public trust in the police and perceptions of their legitimacy.[221] George Alders writes that retaining public trust in policing will depend in part on how long the public lockdown lasts and what life is like once it is over.[222] If the police are felt to have misinterpreted the restrictions and enforced them unfairly, then public trust may be diminished, making their role harder once the pandemic is over. Liberty (UK human rights organisation) highlighted the potential long term damage to police and public relations when calling for the UK government to narrow the scope of their Regulations, warning that in not doing so, public trust could be undermined permanently.[223]

The flip side of this, argues Alder, is that there will be enhanced trust where police actions are closely aligned to the policy and considered legitimate, and while life is unlikely to return to normal in the immediate future there is hope that policing can be improved as a result of the pandemic, through: Listening to the public, Communicating effectively and Collaborating in public-private partnerships.[224] Adler argues it will also be challenging to maintain public trust, both now and after the pandemic, stating:

"This requires policing to be sensitive to the local context, with greater situational awareness by police officers on the ground and more effective communications campaigns and dialogue with the public and businesses regionally and nationally. This starts at the highest level."[225]

Policing a pandemic - The challenges of maintaining law and order during the Coronavirus response[226] also made recommendations related to the public and the police:

  • The Government should instigate a national advertising campaign to raise morale across the country and to sustain and build social cohesion across communities that will be under stress during the coronavirus crisis
  • The Home Office and Police Service should re-invigorate Neighbourhood Watch schemes across the country and ensure that police Safer Neighbourhood Teams are retained as a vital visible presence on the streets
  • Local authorities should use existing Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (CDRPs) to enhance community engagement and information sharing, including creating and monitoring websites that strengthen the ability of individuals and community groups to help the elderly and vulnerable connect with local support

Post COVID Crime

Ben Bradford explored this in his paper, Changes in crime and policing resulting from Covid-19 'lockdowns': First takes from nine countries, produced on 13 April.[227] Some of his findings are reflected in this review whilst others are different so included here:

  • In most countries it is too early to say what effect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on crime, let alone provide reliable forecasts
  • Evidence that is available suggests an initial reduction in 'volume' and/or 'street' crime
  • There are widespread concerns about domestic abuse and fraud
  • Cybercrime patterns appear to have shifted rapidly in response to the crisis
  • The level of police patrol/enforcement in some countries is strikingly high
  • There are several examples of police hiring extra staff
  • Shifts in police resources to enforcing lockdowns may have implications for the measurement of crime, as well as potential effects on people living in areas targeted for enforcement

In the UK there has been emerging evidence of increases in the following crimes since lockdown:

  • Domestic abuse - It has been argued that police prioritisation on policing domestic abuse has been possible partly because other types of crime - such as robbery, burglary, public space violence etc., have been falling, thereby freeing up some limited police time and capacity. The challenge will be to maintain this focus on the policing of domestic abuse when the demands on policing return to pre pandemic levels (if indeed they return to pre pandemic levels). This is particularly challenging as it has been reported that calls to police about domestic abuse are expected to spike after lockdown[228] and that domestic abuse charities are bracing themselves for a 'tsunami' of victims contacting them once lockdown eases[229]
  • Stalking - there have been increases in stalking victims seeking help over the lockdown period,[230] and suggestions that stalkers have become more 'tech-savvy' over the period, having had more time to turn to cyberbullying, while on furlough etc.[231]
  • Child sexual exploitation - there are reports that this has become more widespread since the start of the pandemic as opportunities to sell children to sex offenders online are provided. Internet Watch Foundation analysts report that the pandemic has led to a global slowdown in the removal of child sexual images making it easier for paedophiles to view and share images.[232] In addition, reporting by third parties such as teachers and social workers may not occur over the lockdown and summer holiday period as they are less likely to be seeing victims[233]
  • Serious Organised Crime (SOC) - there is some evidence of increases and changes in the nature of SOC as criminals exploit the opportunities the pandemic provides. For example, drug dealers posing as joggers or using fake NHS ID badges to continue their trade during the COVID-19 lockdown[234]
  • Cyber Fraud and Computer Misuse - there have been numerous reports of cyber criminals exploiting the pandemic to sell coronavirus-linked bogus products such as testing kits, face masks and even vaccines.[235] Furthermore, there has been a growing use of coronavirus-related themes by malicious cyber actors: for example, the National Cyber Security Centre has detected more UK government-branded scams relating to COVID-19 than any other subject. At the same time, the surge in home working has increased the use of potentially vulnerable services, amplifying the threat to individuals and organisations[236]



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