The need to enforce COVID-19 restrictions has distracted British police from tackling serious offences even though recorded crime fell during the pandemic, a new study has found.
Even though police in England and Wales recorded fewer crimes during the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic, they did not appear to get extra time to investigate more serious offences, according to a joint report (pdf) by the Police Foundation, the UK’s policing think tank, and the Crest Advisory consultancy.
They found that the fall in crime was “largely offset” by the rise in non-crime demand, much of which was linked to the enforcement of COVID-19 rules.
According to the report, by the end of March 2020, most police forces in England and Wales were experiencing “dramatic reductions” in recorded crime.
“The restrictions on movement and gathering, the closing of non-essential shops, and the complete suspension of the night-time economy radically changed the opportunity structures for committing and reporting most offences,” said the report.
At the time, policing leaders saw this as a “unique opportunity” to free up police resources and to conduct proactive investigations into more serious offences such as drug-related gang crime.
But as the study found, the optimistic view of a “COVID-19 dividend” was never really borne out, as the police forces came under increased pressures of enforcing the COVID-19 legislation and “navigating the new public health role for policing.”
Another major factor that prevented British police from capturing the COVID-19 dividend, according to the authors, was the pattern of anti-social behaviour incidents.
While anti-social behaviour typically makes up 8–9 percent of all incident demand during normal times, it rose to a peak of 17 percent during the pandemic, the study found.
Rick Muir, director of the Police Foundation, said the study showed police had responded well to the operational challenges of the pandemic.
“Despite coming under considerable pressure, the consent-based approach, the cornerstone of British policing, held firm,” he said.
But Muir said the “grey area” between the law and government guidance caused difficulties. “It is inevitable that law and guidance will have to change during a pandemic. Nevertheless, the frequency of changes made it difficult for the police to enforce the law.”
The report said that police forces must “urgently” focus on boosting the skills and expertise of the workforce to deal with new types of crime, as the pandemic has “accelerated pre-existing trends of crime moving online and becoming more complex.”
The government has been trying to increase capacity across the 43 forces in England and Wales by recruiting new officers through the “uplift” programme.
But the report concluded that there is “little evidence that the 20,000 officer uplift is geared up to respond to that challenge.”