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

A data report scrutinising Police Scotland’s use of the new temporary powers introduced to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic shows that less than seven percent of all interventions involved the use of enforcement, such as a fine or arrest.   


Lead for our Safer Communities research programme, Professor Susan McVie from the University of Edinburgh, is a member of the Independent Advisory Group (IAG) on Police Use of the Temporary Powers related to the Coronavirus Crisis in Scotland. The IAG was set up to provide scrutiny around Police Scotland’s use of the police powers introduced to tackle COVID-19.

As part of this work, Susan has developed an interim data report which was presented to the Scottish Policy Authority board yesterday. The report included:

  • Detailed information on police enforcement during COVID-19 including the dispersal of gatherings and use of Fixed Penalty Notices and arrests
  • Temporal analysis throughout lockdown showing how things have changed throughout this time period
  • Geographical analysis to examine and compare practice within different Scottish police Divisions
  • Analysis of public perspectives received by a citizen’s portal
  • Comparison of complaints received by the police during lockdown with earlier periods

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.

The data used in the report is at an aggregate level and explores patterns at divisional level without identifying any individuals or personal data. It includes data from the Coronavirus Intervention (CVI) system which has been established by Police Scotland to collect information on police activity in relation to the pandemic.

Susan’s expertise and data analysis is helping to inform evidence-led discussion and debate around the police use of the temporary police powers. Talking about her role on the IAG, Susan said:

“It is a privilege to work closely with Police Scotland and provide real-time data analysis to help inform organisational learning and add value to operational response at a critical moment in history. I hope that a longer term outcome of this work will include greater data sharing for research purposes.”  

This is strong example of academics working in partnership with the police to utilise administrative data and inform understanding around practice, improve service delivery and, ultimately, save lives.

Susan will continue to support the work of the IAG and undertake further analysis on the demographic profiles of those who have experienced enforcement.    You can find the meeting proceedings on the Scottish Police Authority website.

This article was published on 01 Jul 2020

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