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Policing a pandemic – A hybrid Delphi approach study on COVID-19

This project will use data gathered during the COVID-19 pandemic to identify the readiness of UK policing to respond to future societal disruption.

Key details

Lead institution
Principal researcher(s)
Prof. Shane D. Johnson and Dr. Manja Nikolovska
Police region
Collaboration and partnership

Operation Talla, The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC).

Level of research
Professional/work based
Project start date
Date due for completion

Research context

The COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered multiple blind spots in our ability to deal with sudden large-scale societal disruptions. In response to COVID-19 containment policies, routine activities have been drastically affected at the individual, collective and organizational level.

Criminals have responded, exploiting the opportunities presented. Law enforcement agencies (LEAs) were among the front-line agencies that had to respond quickly. On the one hand, there was a need to enforce compliance with COVID-19 policies, and on the other, to fight crime and anticipate new crime opportunities.

One year from the onset of the pandemic, we are slowly moving from reacting to living with disruption. Crime has been impacted by the pandemic, reducing for some types of offence but increasing for others. There is uncertainty about what will happen next and what the demands for the police and associated stakeholders are likely to be in the coming months and years.

There are no future facts but understanding how crime might change and what the priorities might be for policing can be investigated through a systematic assessment of the literature and through expert elicitation exercises.

Here, we will use the Delphi methodology to elicit expert opinion from UK law enforcement agency stakeholders (LEA’S) to understand their perspectives about the response to the pandemic and crime, how crime might change under different scenarios, and identify gaps in communication and action.

The aims of this study are to:

  • systematically assess and summarise learned experiences of policing during the disruption across the law enforcement system to inform learning, operational practice and to identify gaps that need to be addressed moving forwards

  • contribute towards Law Enforcement Agencies readiness to police further disruption or operate under 'normal' conditions

  • anticipate future crime trends 

  • inform policing strategy and policy

Research methodology

The study will use the ‘Delphi Method’, which is a future scenario forecasting tool that gathers expert opinion on a particular topic. We will conduct a Delphi study that is informed by a systematic literature search and also a 10kv-Cloud exercise (essentially a focus group) that was commissioned by the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC).

The latter involved delegates from UK law enforcement and other sectors. It was designed to collect their experience of the policing response to COVID-19 across the law enforcement system with a focus on outcomes and decisions made throughout the different phases of the pandemic. 10kv creates space for delegates to post anonymous comments on questions posed to them. It creates a lot of material but is unstructured.

The Delphi method is a future scenario forecasting tool that elicits opinion from experts on a particular topic. It usually encompasses two rounds.

The first serves as a 'systematic brainstorming' exercise during which experts are surveyed (individually) on a set of questions.

In the second round, participants will be sent a summary of the aggregate responses for each item and their own individual ratings. They will be invited to change their responses, should they wish to, and to provide reasons for their answers.

The data will be analysed to identify items for which there is consensus and those for which participants disagree.

The findings of the Delphi study will identify:

  • crime types that stakeholders believe will change if another lockdown (or analogous event) were to occur in the future
  • what crimes they expect to change if policies are relaxed
  • what they perceive is currently unknown and should be researched as a priority
  • what policies, strategies or other approaches should be prioritised going forwards


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