Every ticket is a story – piloting a 'whole story' approach to understanding ethnic disproportionality in FPNs issued for breaching coronavirus restrictions

The project will explore the BAME disproportionality around coronavirus Fixed Penalty Notices. 

Key details

Lead institution
Principal researcher(s)
Dr. Liz Turner
Police region
North West
Level of research
Professional/work based
Project start date
Date due for completion

Research context

Between 27th March and 25th May 2020 the overall rate at which fixed penalty notices (FPNs) for breaches of coronavirus regulations were issued was 1.8 times higher for Black and Asian people than it was for White people.

The proposed project will develop and test a 'telling the whole story' approach to exploring the ethnic disproportionality in coronavirus FPNs. This approach seeks to situate the blunt and imperfect tool of quantitative measurement of disproportionality against the backdrop of wider social divisions and inequalities, and the sharper insights available through the use of richer qualitative data on police-public encounters and the crucial contextual factors that shape each encounter. 

The approach will entail close collaboration between academics and police analysts to identify opportunities to exploit as fully as possible the potential of existing police datasets and records, and to explore available data on the wider contextual factors relevant to the issue of BAME disproportionality (including for example wider socio-economic indicators and data on calls for service in relation to coronavirus regulation breaches).

This quantitatively-oriented work will be complemented by the production and analysis of a qualitative dataset of interviews with officers involved in a sample of the cases where FPNS for breaches of the health protection regulations were issued. The training implications of any findings from the research will be explored and potential applications developed in collaboration with force training departments to ensure the training undertaken is more evidence-based. 

By adopting this approach in relation to issues associated with the current pandemic this project will seek to provide timely input to an urgent issue as there is growing scrutiny of the police in this area. This includes the recent publication of an NPCC Report on disproportionality around Fixed Penalty Notice ticketing, the proposal for a thematic HMICFRS COVID-19 inspection including policing practices in the enforcement of regulations during the pandemic and the announcement from the IOPC around a thematic focus on race discrimination investigations.

In addition supplementary, COVID related evidence (in particular the disproportionality around use of Enforcement) was discussed in the Home Affairs Select Committee ‘The MacPherson Report: twenty-one years on’. If the police are perceived to be treating different groups unfairly this may undermine their capacity to engage constructively with those groups to limit the spread of the disease.

As such, enhancing understanding in this area will enable forces to identify opportunities to improve their approach to engagement around the measures in place to limit coronavirus transmission, particularly amongst BAME communities that are known to be more vulnerable to the disease. 

Research methodology

The project will combine analysis of existing data held by the partner forces with the collection of qualitative data from narrative interviews with officers who have issued FPNs for breaches of coronavirus regulations.

Key activities and deliverables are outlined below.


  • Two half day online workshops bringing together academics and participating forces to explore available data and analytical approaches and identify current potential, gaps and opportunities to extend knowledge.

  • Collaborative review of FPNs issued for breaches in coronavirus regulations within the participating forces between 25 March and 27 May 2020 to develop and apply a coding frame to capture relevant but potentially under-utilised contextual detail available.

  • Production of in-depth, qualitative data set on a randomly-selected sample of approximately 60 FPNs, half of these to be FPNs issued to Black or Asian people. The dataset will comprise short (around 20 minutes) interviews with the officers who issued the FPN to allow them to describe how the incident moved from 'engagement' to 'enforcement'.

  • Analysis of interview data.

  • Collaborative half day online workshop with academics and representatives from in-force training departments to identify current approaches to training around disproportionality and areas where additional research-based input generated by the project would be beneficial. 


  • Co-produced short report on state of current knowledge and opportunities to improve it (based on two half day workshops).

  • Anonymised database of FPNs issued coded to relevant categories with identification of key headline findings.

  • In-depth qualitative dataset of approximately 60 interviews with officers issuing FPNs, at least half where person fined is Black or Asian.

  • Report on analysis of 'stories' told by officers about how they moved from 'engagement' to 'enforcement'.

  • Co-produced short report on workshop with representatives from in-force training departments identifying opportunities to integrate research findings into training. 

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