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Police use of the new Covid-19 powers: Using administrative data to analyse and evaluate practice

McVie and fellow collaborators at the Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research (SCADR)

Research questions: 

The report scrutinises Police Scotland's use of temporary new powers of enforcement introduced to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic and asks the following questions:

  • Are the temporary powers being used appropriately, with enforcement being used only as a last resort?
  • What is the public's perception of the police use of these temporary powers?

Type(s) of inequality and how inequality is defined:

Differences in the use of the powers in terms of absolute numbers and rates per capita.

Approach or method used:

The report provides detailed analysis of some of the data gathered by the Independent Advisory Group (IAG) in its review of Police Scotland’s use of the new temporary powers created under the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations. The data presented in this report were provided by Police Scotland’s Operation Talla Information Collation, Assurance and Liaison (OpTICAL) Group or collected through the Scottish Police Authority’s Citizen Portal. Further data collected to support the work of the IAG includes two waves of a public survey commissioned by the SPA, findings of which are published on the SPA website (Findings from Wave 1 published on 5 May 2020; and Findings from Wave 2 published on 18 May 2020); and qualitative interviews with police officers from three Divisions conducted by HM Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland. The findings presented in this report should be considered in the wider context of these other sources of data.

Key findings/results:

The report shows that there was a large increase in the use of the powers, and some inconsistency in policing practice, in the early weeks of lockdown.  Despite some large spikes in policing activity at key times, police use of the temporary powers gradually declined during May and June and became more consistent across Scotland.  There is strong evidence that police officers have mainly focused on the use of engagement, explanation and encouragement, rather than enforcement: less than seven percent of all interventions involved the use of enforcement, such as a fine or an arrest.

Implication of findings/relevance to policy:

The lockdown has had a significant impact on policing in Scotland, resulting in the introduction of a new set of temporary policing powers that required Police Scotland to adapt many aspects of operational and tactical policing, including substantial changes to its resource deployment strategy, to meet the challenges of maintaining public health in the context of a global pandemic. It also contributed to significant fluctuations in levels of demand for, and capacity to respond to, wider incidents of crime, disorder and public safety. Overall, it appears that policing capacity has been redeployed where necessary to cope with the emerging challenges during lockdown.

The main area that this report has not considered is the profile of those individuals who have been subject to enforcement under the temporary policing powers. Data collection to support this aspect of the IAG’s deliberations is ongoing but expected to be completed by the end of July 2020. These data will enable the IAG to examine the demographic characteristics (including age, sex and ethnicity) and personal circumstances (including employment status and criminal history) of those individuals who were issued with an FPN or were arrested during the course of the lockdown. This will be a valuable addition in terms of considering whether the police use of the powers has disproportionately impacted on particular groups within the population. Results of this work will be published in future reports.

Read the full report:

Interim report IAG Police Use of Temporary Powers related to the Coronavirus Crisis