Crime, justice, policing and COVID-19: What are experts concerned about?

  • Over 1,100 experts have shared with us their concerns about COVID-19 and COVID-impacted areas in the immediate and longer term future.
  • This report outlines crime, justice and policing concerns.
  • On policing, experts are concerned about how the police are monitoring and enforcing adherence to Government restrictions. This includes the inadvertent criminalisation of certain communities and the risk for civil disorder.
  • Experts are also concerned about the potential increase of certain types of crime during the outbreak, such as organised crime, corruption, domestic abuse and cybercrime.
  • On the criminal justice system experts worry about a backlog of cases in courts which were put on hold due to the pandemic. They are also worried about a surge of news cases as a result of the pandemic. Finally there are concerns about the health of prisoners at this time and want to know about plans for early releases.
  • You can find all our horizon scanning work on COVID-19 here.

Our survey of over 1,100 experts asked them what their most important concerns were in the short (next 3 months), medium (next 3 to 9 months) and long-term (beyond the next 9 months) relating to the COVID-19 outbreak. Their responses were analysed and synthesised. This synthesis comes from survey responses submitted between 3 and 30 April. Experts raised 85 concerns relating to crime, justice and policing. Below are the areas of concerns that experts have relating to this area.

Policing

Experts raised over 40 concerns about policing during the COVID-19 outbreak. Experts are concerned about how the police are monitoring and enforcing adherence to Government restrictions. They want to know what powers the police are using and how this is being measured. There are concerns that police are unable to monitor adherence in all areas because they do not have the number of officers required. Other concerns include that the police may inadvertently criminalise certain groups who are less able or less likely to observe Government guidance. For example, young people who live in unsafe housing may be more likely to be in public spaces more often. Some experts express concern that there could be a rise in tensions between the police and certain communities if people feel they are being unduly monitored compared to others. 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.

Experts are also concerned about a potential rise in civil disorder in the medium and long-term. They suggest that people may experience frustration at restrictions and that police may struggle to contain civil unrest if there are widespread violations of restrictions, or protests. Experts want to know how the Government will maintain social order in the medium and long-term.

Example of a typical medium-term concern in this area: What will be the impact of policing enforcement policy and lockdown on the perceived legitimacy of policing and with community relations?

Crime rates

Nearly 20 concerns focus on the effect of the COVID-19 outbreak on crime rates in the short, medium and long-term. In the short and medium-term, experts are concerned about potential increases in some types of crime. For example, experts suggest that organised crime and corruption is likely to increase during the COVID-19 outbreak because police will have less time to monitor these crimes. Experts also suggest that domestic abuse cases are likely to increase in the short and medium-term. Experts want to know how police will be supported in investigating these crimes alongside their work in enforcing Government guidance.

Experts also note that an increase in the number of people using digital technologies will also create an increase in the level of cybercrime. They note that police forces are generally less equipped and less well-trained to deal with cybercrime. They question how the police will be supported in dealing with increased numbers of cases involving cybercrime and how they can be trained quickly to deal with these crimes. Some experts are also concerned that misinformation on social media about the origins of the virus may lead to an increase in hate crime. They want to know how the Government will act against hate crime and counter racist and xenophobic messages being spread by social media.

Although some types of crime have reduced during the COVID-19 outbreak, experts are concerned that there could be a rise in crime in the long-term. For example, they suggest that unemployment could lead to increases in various types of theft.

Example of a typical short-term concern in this area: Increase of domestic violence and child abuse incidents, possibly leading to fatalities – the unseen victims of COVID19 [sic].

Criminal justice system

There are over 20 concerns relating to the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on the criminal justice system in the short, medium and long-term.

Experts want to know how jurors and people working in courts will be protected from catching the virus in the short and medium-term. They want to know what guidance is being given to courts to help them enforce social distancing. In the medium and long-term, experts are concerned that there will be a backlog of cases in courts because they have been unable to work at normal capacity. They also suggest there could be a surge in legal cases resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak in the medium and long-term. There are concerns that the criminal justice system was overstretched before the outbreak and it is unlikely to be able to cope with the surge in cases. This may mean that people are unable to get justice in a timely manner.

Some experts raise concerns around prisons in the short and medium-term. They want to know what the plans are for early release of prisoners during the outbreak. Experts also note that releasing prisoners while restrictions are in place may make it harder for prisoners to reintegrate into society. They suggest parole officers need more support during this period. Another concern raised by experts in the short and medium-term is the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak within prisons. Experts want to know how the Government is ensuring that prisons are being kept safe for officers and prisoners. They also want to know what measures are in place to enforce social distancing without violating prisoners’ human rights.

Example of a typical medium-term concern in this area: That policing and criminal justice agencies can maintain their conventional functions in addition to responding to emergencies, such as maintaining order and also being able to investigate and prosecute wrongdoers.


You can read the methodology of this work here. All researchers who contributed to this survey are listed under Acknowledgements.

You can find rapid response content from POST on COVID-19 here.

You can find more content on COVID-19 from the Commons and Lords Libraries here.