‘Every Ticket Tells a Story’

Understanding ethnic disproportionality in FPNs issued for breaching coronavirus restrictions

4 Page Report

Full Report


Reports on the use of Covid-19 FPNs from the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) have highlighted disproportionality in relation to age, gender and ethnicity. Data to June 2021 indicate that the rate at which FPNs were issued to individuals from Black, Asian and Other ethnic backgrounds was between 1.8 and 2 times higher than for White individuals. This report provides an analysis of 32 interviews conducted with serving police officers about their experiences of issuing Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) for breaches of COVID-19 “lockdown” regulations. The research aimed to explore the circumstances in which FPNs were being issued to shed light on any potential explanations as to why a disproportionate number of FPNs were issued to individuals from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

Key findings

The 4Es guidance appears to have underpinned a tendency for officers’ practice to emphasise situational compliance through the performance of appropriate deference to police instruction.

  • Many officers experienced discomfort and uncertainty about the powers they were given to tackle the pandemic.
  • To deal with these feelings of discomfort and uncertainty, officers resolved to use their discretion and only take enforcement action against breaches of the rules that they defined as “blatant”.
  • This approach was underpinned and legitimised by the “4Es” guidance issued by the College of Policing.

The tendency to revert to a “business-as-usual” approach to policing has been a key factor underpinning disproportionality. The problem of ethnic disproportionality in relation to Covid-19 restrictions is perhaps best understood as a problem of both over and under-enforcement, with some groups seeming more likely to benefit from officer discretion than others.

  • Whether a breach of Covid regulations was viewed as “blatant” and a fine issued seems to be related not just to how clear it was that the law was knowingly broken without reasonable excuse, but rather to who was breaking the law, the circumstances in which police encountered them, and how they were perceived to have responded to police intervention (their attitude).
  • Officers were less comfortable using their enforcement powers against people they encountered under circumstances which would not, in non-pandemic times, form part of ordinary police work.
  • Officers appeared more confident about using their enforcement powers against people who they encountered in the context of conducting more “business-as-usual” policing activities.

The concern with attitude and situational compliance in relation to specific breaches may have distracted officers from what should have been a core objective for policing during the pandemic: reducing overall risk by securing good population level compliance with the restrictions.


The research was conducted by Dr Scarlett Redman, Dr Liz Turner, and Dr Mike Rowe, at the University of Liverpool. Research was undertaken in collaboration with West Yorkshire Police, Greater Manchester Police, Merseyside Police, Cheshire Police, and Cumbria Police.  

Report date: March 2022

For further information please contact Dr Liz Turner by email (Elizabeth.Turner@liverpool.ac.uk)