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Residents' perceptions of policing and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic

NCJ Number
Policing - An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management Dated: August 2021
Date Published
August 2021

This study examined high-crime-area residents’ experiences with police and safety under the health-related restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.


The COVID-19 pandemic has raised unique challenges for police. Reductions in manpower due to officer illness and the need to social distance to suppress spread of the disease restricts the ability of police to fully engage with the public and deliver full services. Changes to policing strategies may affect residents’ feelings of safety and their relationships with police. The current study conducted household surveys of residents across three high-crime, disadvantaged neighborhoods in St. Louis County, Missouri. It first synthesized qualitative feedback about the impact on safety and policing, and then Wilcoxon Signed Ranks tests compared pre-pandemic assessments of policing and safety measures to measures collected during the pandemic. Finally, it used multinomial regression to examine how perceived changes in policing affected residents’ change in safety during the pandemic. The study found that residents observed and engaged with police less during the pandemic. They reported hearing gunshots more often. Reduced police presence in neighborhoods led to mixed effects on safety, largely decreasing residents’ feelings of safety; however, two factors that consistently improved safety were positive encounters with police and police being less involved with minor offenses. This is the first study to assess the pandemic’s impact on residents’ perceptions of safety and police in disadvantaged, high- crime contexts. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: August 1, 2021