What do we want from our police? Leeds academics co-author report on 'minimum policing standard'

Latest research from University of Leeds, UCL and University of York researchers reveals that how police performance is measured is at odds with how the public think about the service.

With trust in policing at an all-time low following a series of scandals and internal investigations, researchers at the ESRC Vulnerability & Policing Futures Research Centre (co-led by the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Leeds) set out to answer the question, what does the public want and expect from local police?

Inspired by the ‘minimum income standard’ methodology, researchers from the Universities of Leeds and York and UCL, embarked on a series of focus groups to develop a ‘minimum policing standard’, an established consensus on a set of activities and services that the police should – under normal circumstances – be able to provide to everyone.

The research team included Professor Adam Crawford, University of York and Leeds, Dr David Rowlands, University of Leeds, Dr Christine A Weirich, University of Leeds and Professor Ben Bradford, University College London.

Police as first-line responders

The report found that, although crime was important, most focus was on police conduct and relationships with the public.

Participants saw the police’s role as first-line responders to protect the public and to solve crime. However, after the initial response, participants then expected that specialist third parties would step in to work with people with vulnerabilities.

Professor Adam Crawford, Co-Director of the Vulnerability & Policing Futures Research Centre, said:

Understanding public views and experiences of policing, the issues they feel are most important and the appetite for change are crucial to ensure that policing works in the interests of public safety. It also affords insights into public acceptance of the role and limits of police and other services where their responsibilities cross over.

Our research found that people are more focused on how policing is conducted and its relationships with the communities it serves. To better understand this, we need to develop more nuanced ways of measuring processes and relationships between police and public and the relational values of engagement, fairness and respect.

Local policing expectations

Research highlighted the following expectations around local policing:

‘…that local policing should ensure the safety of the community while ensuring fair treatment by:

  • being available at any time
  • being visible (including in-person or via phone)
  • having good communication
  • being contactable on a local level
  • being respectful and empathetic
  • building and establishing themselves as trustworthy.’

On 20 July, the research team shared their results and answered questions from an audience including researchers and members of the policing community. 

Bringing together expertise from across a large academic community, this research underscores the University of Leeds commitment to collaboration as a way of tackling real-world problems and supports the Centre’s aim to shape the future of policing and improve outcomes for vulnerable people.

Next steps

To explore the implications of this project, a nationally representative survey of approximately 1,500 participants was developed, the results of which will be shared in a forthcoming separate report.

You can download a copy of the first report here.

The Vulnerability & Policing Futures Research Centre, jointly led by the University of Leeds and University of York, is one of six Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) centres of excellence: the first of its kind dedicated to understanding how policing can better service the needs of vulnerable people.

Image by Fungai Tichawangana from Pixabay.