Understanding changing demand for police during Covid-19

Policy Briefing



Covid-19 has created unprecedented challenges for policing in the UK and globally, both by creating new tasks (e.g. enforcing government restrictions or shielding vulnerable staff), and by shifting patterns in demand resulting from changes in people’s routine activities. There has been some work both in-house and academic, looking at some of these shifts, however these either focus only on crimes, and/or calculate changes by comparing the time period in question to the same time last year, a technique which can provide incorrect and misleading results.  In this project we use a mixed-method approach of robust time-series analysis and qualitative interviews with force call centre staff in a UK police force to explore changes in police demand during the different stages of lockdown.

Key findings

Fewer Calls, Faster Response, Less Time on Scene: Overall during the pandemic, Cheshire Constabulary received fewer calls for service than would be expected in the absence of the pandemic. As demand decreased, a higher proportion of calls were attended, and response time also decreased. This was more marked for Grade 2 and Grade 3 category calls than Grade 1, which were already well attended and responded to ASAP. Finally, again for Grade 2 and 3 category calls, the time officers spent on scene was reduced.

Quiet Roads: During the pandemic and associated lockdown there were fewer people on the street and on the roads. This shows in a drop in Highway Disruption, Road Related Traffic Offences and Traffic Collisions.

Expressions of concern: Calls about breaches of the Covid-19 regulations were the main source of demand – this is shown in the increase in “ASB” calls, which were not the regular ASB, but rather Covid breach calls coded as ASB. Calls relating to Drugs is also a result of neighbours staying in the home, acting as capable guardians of their areas.

Presence Of Guardians, Absence of Suitable Targets: Increased guardianship of residences by people staying home shows a drop in residential burglaries, and closing of shops removed suitable targets for shoplifting and theft from motor vehicles

No Visible Change in Domestic Incidents (But Possible Change in Nature): Despite many concerns, calls data does not show any significant increase in calls about domestic incidents, however interviews reveal a shift towards more child to parent conflicts.


The research was conducted by Réka Solymosi (University Of Manchester), Matt Ashby (University College London), Nadia Kennar (UK Data Service), Eon Kim (University Of Manchester), and Karen Byrom, Alexander McMillan, Phoebe Liebelt (Cheshire Constabulary). 

Report date: 01/12/2021.

For further information please contact Réka Solymosi by email (reka.solymosi@manchester.ac.uk)