‘Relationship between policing and vulnerability needs to be reset’ Centre Directors argue

The Vulnerability & Policing Futures Research Centre Co-Directors have set out the need to change how services respond to vulnerability at the Centre’s national launch event in London.

Professors Adam Crawford (University of York and University of Leeds) and Charlie Lloyd (University of York) delivered a talk that outlined the vision of the Centre to shape the future of policing and other services for vulnerable people.

Having received £8.23 million funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the Centre began work in May 2022. It brings together a wide range of partners across the UK to study how vulnerabilities - such as exploitation by county lines drug networks, online child sexual exploitation, domestic abuse, modern slavery, mental illness and homelessness - affect policing.

Our mission is to pioneer new, holistic approaches to help reduce harm among vulnerable groups in society.<br><br>We will do this by exploring how policing contributes to and exacerbates vulnerability as well as how it tackles it.<br><br>By employing a variety of research methodologies we will develop new understandings of vulnerability and the impact of place and other factors on policing and vulnerability.

Professor Adam Crawford

“Collaborating with our wide range of partners will be crucial in analysing how police and public service providers respond to vulnerabilities and how this collective work could be improved” added Professor Charlie Lloyd.

The launch event featured a panel discussion on vulnerability and the future of policing, bringing together a range of experts including Dr Rick Muir (Director of the Police Foundation), Rachel Tuffin (Director of Knowledge, Innovation & Standards at the College of Policing), and Dame Sara Thornton (Professor at University of Nottingham and former Anti-Slavery Commissioner).

The panel discussed the key challenges and opportunities for developing integrated approaches to vulnerability and policing in the coming years. They also spoke about the potential of the ESRC Vulnerability & Policing Futures Research Centre to contribute to this.

Professor Lloyd said: “The causes and characteristics of vulnerability are complex. The remits of the police and partner organisations intersect in complicated and shifting ways when it comes to policing vulnerability. 

“In the past 10-15 years crime has changed and there has been a rapid increase in complex interdependent problems and instances where traditional lines between victim and offender are blurred.

“Increases in complex cases coupled with cuts to public services have resulted in the police frequently acting as ‘the service of first resort’, at the frontline of responding to urgent social problems. This draws the police into responses alongside other service providers such as health, social care and housing but these overlapping remits can lack a shared purpose and blur roles and boundaries.”

All these things combined mean that it is crucial for us to rethink policing and our understanding of vulnerability, as well as how the police and other services can best work together to address vulnerability.<br><br> As a Centre we will undertake research to inform and respond to these challenges.

Professor Crawford

ESRC Director of Research, Jennifer Gold said: “Part of our role is to harness the power of social science to improve the life chances of some of the most vulnerable in society. Supporting the effectiveness of public services helps us to achieve this aim. 

“We are delighted to see the launch of the Vulnerability & Policing Futures Research Centre, which will explore how the police and partner organisations can work together effectively to protect vulnerable individuals and groups.

“In bringing together a broad range of public sector, academic and voluntary sector partners, the centre will play a critical role in driving evidence-led changes to the provision of services.”