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Policing the Pandemic

In March 2020, the Coronavirus Act 2020 provided an extensive range of emergency powers to enable public bodies to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. Aimed at protecting public health, the 2020 Act is part of a complex suite of emergency legislation across the devolved nations, that taken together, marks the largest expansion of executive power seen in peacetime.

Policing the Pandemic in Scotland logo

In Scotland this includes Health Protection Regulations, which provide police officers with powers to issue Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) for non-compliance with various restrictions on movement and gatherings. The most recent iteration of the Regulations came into force in November 2020, setting out a ‘levels-based’ approach, with differing restrictions in each level, according to local prevalence of the virus.   

The Policing the Pandemic project will investigate the role of police enforcement in securing compliance with the Regulations, and the factors associated with non-compliance. Drawing on a unique and rich dataset on FPNs issued by Police Scotland, and interviews with both police officer members of the public who received a FPN, the project will examine police use of the new powers, investigate the factors, vulnerabilities, and circumstances underlying people’s unwillingness or inability to comply, and look at the impact of police enforcement on people’s lives.

This grant is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19 (UKRI/ESRC Grant Reference: ES/W001845/1).

Police data

A unique database of Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) issued by Police Scotland will be linked at an individual level to a range of health, economic and social administrative data. To identify links between non-compliance with the Regulations, and vulnerabilities, such as economic and health challenges, we will compare the profile of FPN recipients to that of a matched sample of the Scottish adult population across a range of measures, including area deprivation, mental health episodes, and drug or alcohol-related health contacts. We will also investigate whether Covid-19 infection and death rates amongst FPN recipients differed to those of the population as a whole. This will allow us to determine the extent to which those who were subject to enforcement posed a risk in terms of spreading the disease. 

Police interviews

We will explore in detail the experiences and views of police officers involved in front-line duties during the pandemic, and who issued FPNs to those who did not comply with the Coronavirus Regulations. We will interview a sample of around 30 police officers, on topics such as their perceptions on using FPNs as a mechanism for encouraging compliance and managing enforcement with frequently changing Regulations.

Public interviews

We will also explore the experiences and views of people who issued with one or more FPNs during the pandemic as a result of not complying with the Coronavirus Regulations. We will interview a sample of around 100 people on topics including: the impact of the pandemic; attitudes to and understanding of Regulations and guidelines; attitudes to the police; behaviours during lockdown and circumstances surrounding issue of an FPN; attitudes towards and the impact of receiving an FPN; and factors that could have increased likelihood of compliance with the Regulations.

Findings and dissemination

The findings of the study will be of significant interest and value to police officers, policy makers, and politicians across the UK in considering how best to encourage, enable, support, or compel people to adhere to the Regulations as we encounter future waves of the current pandemic, and in any future public health (or other) emergency requiring some form of mass public compliance. The insights from this multi-method study will enable development of better policies in response to future public health emergencies, and inform policing and other strategies aimed at encouraging and enabling public compliance with the law. We will work with UK policing, governments, and public policy audiences to disseminate findings from the project, and to build the evidence-base on the practical implementation, impact, and effectiveness of policing operations during the pandemic. Lessons from the analysis will also be shared with individual UK Police forces, where we will consider how the findings could be contextualised and adapted to improve local policing.

Dissemination will be supported by the Scottish Institute for Policing Research (SIPR), who will facilitate impact through their connections to policing partners and academics, both nationally and internationally.

Principal Investigator

Professor Susan McVie

Co-Investigators

Dr Kath Murray

Dr Ben Matthews 

Research fellows

Dr Victoria Gorton

Blogs

Susan McVie, Kath Murray and Ben Matthews: How did Scotland police the pandemic? (Covid-19 Perspectives, 21 July 2021)

Reports

Data report on Police Use of Fixed Penalty Notices under the Coronavirus Regulations in Scotland (August 2020)

This report provides analysis of the Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) issued by Police Scotland under the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 which were approved by the Scottish Parliament on 27th March 2020.

View full report

Second data report on Police Use of Fixed Penalty Notices under the Coronavirus Regulations in Scotland (February 2021)

This data report contains detailed analysis of the profile of those individuals who received a police Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) under the Coronavirus Regulations in Scotland during the first lockdown wave (from 27th March to 31st May 2020). It is one of a series of data reports produced on behalf of the Independent Advisory Group (IAG) on Police Use of Temporary Powers during the Coronavirus Crisis in Scotland, chaired by John Scott QC.

View full report

Third Data Report on Police Use of Fixed Penalty Notices under the Coronavirus Regulations in Scotland: March to December 2020 (25 August 2021)

Professor Susan McVie and Dr Ben Matthews have authored a third data report scrutinising the police use of Fixed Penalty Noticed (FPNs) under the temporary powers introduced by the Coronavirus Regulations to help stop the spread of the virus. This report examines all FPNs issued between March and December 2020.  It represents the most detailed analysis for any UK police force of how many FPNs were issued, who received them, and where and when FPNs were issued.  Importantly, it also shows how rates and patterns of enforcement changed over time.  

The report was published to coincide with the Scottish Police Authority Meeting on 25th August 2021 and represents one of a number of papers presented by John Scott QC, Chair of the Independent Advisory Group (IAG) set up to provide scrutiny around Police Scotland’s use of the temporary powers.

View full report

Data Report on Police Charges Reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service under the Coronavirus Regulations: March 2020 to June 2021 (25 August 2021)

Professor Susan McVie has authored a data report on the number of charges reported by Police Scotland under the Coronavirus Regulations between March 2020 and June 2021 to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).  The report examines the number of charges reported to COPFS, the prosecutorial decisions that were taken in these cases and the outcomes of disposals.  The data provide assurance that a very small proportion of all pandemic related policing activity resulted in a report to the COPFS and that decisions made in respect of these charges were broadly in line with usual prosecutorial practice.

The report was published to coincide with the Scottish Police Authority Meeting on 25th August 2021 and represents one of a number of papers presented by John Scott QC, Chair of the Independent Advisory Group (IAG) set up to provide scrutiny around Police Scotland’s use of the temporary powers.

View full report