Policing in Times of the Pandemic
Police-Public relations in the interplay of global pandemic response and individual discretionary scope
The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe during March 2020 marked a fissure in many areas of the society, including policing. As a means for containing increasing outbreaks of the virus, almost every government in Europe resorted to issuing strict lockdown measures, essentially halting all public life. Consequently, the police have been tasked with enforcing novel legal rules such as mask wearing, social distancing and curfews. However, due to the nature of the pandemic crisis, the enacted measures were often issued on short notice, leaving little time for legal scrutiny, nor for adequate communication – to the public or law enforcement agencies. The proposed paper – which is based on a project currently submitted for review – specifically looks at this intersection of hastily issued laws and their enforcement on the ground level through police forces and the subsequent issues that have resulted from this.
Starting from an organisational studies point of view, we consider that the problems with “policing the pandemic” might emerge as a result from a three-level governance of pandemic response – the governmental/legal level; the organisational structure of the police; ground level policing. This means that issues that ensue due to unclear legislation might trickle down onto the ground level work of police, where individual officers need to enact these measures in the interaction with the public and within their own discretionary scope. Large scale pandemic response thus rests on the shoulders of ground level police discretion, which has the potential of creating frictions in the police-public relations. Problematising this issue and understanding how this might materialize in practice can help to better understand how these issues can be mitigated – in the current pandemic as well as for future instances of crisis as well.
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