Policing During a Pandemic
for the public health or against the usual suspects?
It is much remarked upon that the pandemic exposed underlying tensions and weaknesses in European societies. Police attention, in enforcing lockdowns and other restrictions on movement and assembly, has tended to be disproportionately focused upon minority communities. However, middle class white people have also been policed in ways they have perhaps not previously experienced. As a consequence, the pandemic has shed light on the use of police powers more generally. While police powers to stop citizens, to check their identity and to search or otherwise detain them have long been controversial in the US and in the UK, they have now become a focus of debate in Belgium, France, Germany and beyond. In a public health pandemic, the police largely continued to discipline the working class and minorities (despite the alarm raised by middle classes). Attention was not equally distributed and there is little to connect patterns of policing with, for instance, prevalence of the virus within local populations. Instead, policing continued to act as a disciplinary instrument in particularly problematic and unruly communities. This paper draws upon a review of policing of the pandemic undertaken by an EU COST Action (CA17102) on Police Stops. In the absence of clarity and transparency, the use of police powers can undermine legitimacy in particular communities and, this presents particular threats to the social health and security of all.
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