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  4. 3.23 Policing uncertainty: Decisions and action in a national emergency

3.23 Policing uncertainty: Decisions and action in a national emergency

Academic team: Professor Mark Fenton O'Creevy, Dr Nicky Miller, Dr Helen Selby-Fell and Dr Benjamin Bowles
Policing partners: Metropolitan Police Service and Dorset Police
Status: Complete

Learning and development

UK policing is and has been facing a range of new and emerging operational and organisational challenges becuase of COVID-19, which are expected to persist, and continue to evolve, in the coming months and, possibly, years ahead. COVID-19 has necessitated changes across all normal methods of policing service delivery. There is a unique window of opportunity to study senior policing decision-making in the context of the major uncertainties created by a pandemic - a crisis which, unlike previous policing crisis, has been perceived to be "temporally and geographically unbounded" (Hewitt 2020). There is a significant gap in research to help decision-makers cope effectively and to determine 'what works', in contexts of radical uncertainty. Research on the pandemic will create insights and understandings which will be valuable for addressing other radical uncertainties both present and in the future.

The aim of the research is to identify what may be learned from the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic about the individual and organisational capabilities needed to decide and act effectively when faced with major uncertainties in operational, political, and social environments. 

The research adopts a case study approach drawing on interviews with senior police leaders and archival data from two member forces of the Centre for Policing Research and Learning. The initial focus is on the nature of the operational and political uncertainties faced by policing organisations and the high impact decisions that have needed to be made in the context of those uncertainties. In analysing the data, we will draw on existing research perspectives on decision-making in uncertain contexts, on sense-making, and on the role of formal procedures, policy, and regulatory and legal frameworks in shaping understandings and interpretation of events. We will bring these insights together with policing practitioner persepctives. 


Title Outputs type Lead academic Year
Policing uncertainty, decisions and actions in a national emergency Final report Fenton-O'Creevy, M. 2022



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