Written evidence submitted by Professor Jason Roach and Dr Ashley Cartwright, University of Huddersfield (COR0038).


Improving the Police response to social distancing transgressors during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond





1. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom, measures to control the spread of the virus have been implemented by the Government that have substantially changed the way the public are allowed to socialise.  Recent social distancing measures forbid the public from leaving their houses other than; to exercise for one hour a day, shop for essentials, and work where not possible from home. These rules have been flouted by some members of the public with pictures emerging of packed beaches and parks full of sun worshipers hitting the headlines (BBC, 2020a). High profile cases of violation of the rules include football stars hosting sex parties and driving home drunk from a prohibited party (BBC, 2020b). Greater Manchester Police reported recently that on the first weekend of the measures the force had to break up 660 parties involving guests from different households (BBC, 2020c). A more recent poll of a representative sample of UK residents, however, has estimated that 85% of their neighbours appeared to be adhering to the social distancing rules. Estimates such as these, however, are yet to provide an accurate picture of public conformity to these social distancing measures. The proposed study seeks to address this deficit by providing a greater understanding of which social distancing measures are being adhered to, and which are not and why.


2. Gaining further understanding of the effects of the pandemic on social behaviour (e.g. adherence or disregard for the Government guidance/rules) becomes ever more important if one considers (1) that further more stringent controls on personal freedom of movement and social distancing may be introduced if the current measures/rules to reduce the spread of Covid-19 fail to halt its transmission significantly, and contrastingly (2) if the measures in place sufficiently halt transmission and social distancing begins to be relaxed, how real is the danger that many will then assume that things can go back to normal prematurely, thereby increasing the risk of a second wave pandemic. 


3. Additionally, the proposed study will identify who are most likely to ignore or flout the rules, on social distancing despite the Government’s attempts to use the police to enforce them, and the reasons for doing so. Understanding what and which rules are likely to be ignored and who are likely to ignore these is crucial to the policing response. One of us has already contributed to the ‘policing of the lockdown’ by providing likely scenarios by which some will ignore the rules of social distancing and how police might persuade them to comply (i.e. nudge), for West Yorkshire Police, Durham Police, and the Metropolitan Police Service.


4. The policing response to enforcing the COVID- 19 lockdown centres around engaging, explaining, encouraging and then as a last resort enforcing the rules (College of Policing, 2020). Therefore, the policing strategy is to persuade conformity with the rules and therefore utilising an academic framework to do this would be beneficial for policing practice. However, due to this unprecedented challenge no academic research yet exists to help guide police enforce these new rules.


5. Nudge is a behavioural change approach which originated from cognitive psychology and behavioural economics/science and can be used to influence decision making by ‘nudging’ individuals toward choosing the most pro-social choice available to them (Roach and Pease, 2020 in press); Roach et al., 2016). This is achieved through the understanding and application of the function of heuristics (mental short cuts) and cognitive biases in human decision making which influence all humans. To design, develop a and test effective nudges understanding the target audience is crucial. Without this, messages employed to encourage the public to adhere to social distancing rules remain too general and so doomed to only influence the thinking of a certain proportion of the UK general public. Utilising a cross sectional online survey, the proposed study seeks to ascertain this information from which bespoke nudges can be developed to encourage adherence to the social distancing rules with different groups of people. A recent change by the UK Government has been to put Covid-19 warnings and information in adverts on online gaming platforms, as a result of finally realising that the ‘Stay at home. Save the NHS. Save lives advertisements broadcast on UK television and radio, were not actually reaching young adults (i.e. many young people do not watch mainstream TV) or if they were, were not resonating with them. As suggested previously, ‘nudging’ necessitates knowing exactly whom you want to influence the decision making of, developing a tailored message, and delivering that message via the most appropriate messenger/medium. At present UK policing is only just waking-up to the potential of the nudge approach (Roach, Cartwright et al; 2020 in press; Roach, 2016).




6. A cross sectional online survey using Qualtrics will be developed and sent to an online panel of participants organised by a third-party organisation (representative sample of UK residents). The cross- sectional survey will capture participant demographics followed by a series of questions exploring adherence to social distancing measures, questions capturing participants’ perceptions of who would be the most appropriate organisation to outline the rules and how best to communicate these rules. The final section of the survey will outline a number of different nudges and ask participants to rate how effective they would perceive the nudges for influencing their behaviour and decision making.





BBC (2020a). Coronavirus: Public urged to follow 'mission-critical' rules. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52172035

BBC (2020b).  Kyle Walker: Manchester City defender faces investigation over lockdown breac. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/52175132

BBC (2020c). Coronavirus: Greater Manchester Police warning after 660 parties shut down. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-52221688

Roach, J., Cartwright, A., Weir, K., Richards, S., & Weir, M. reducing student burglary victimisation using the nudge approach. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Roach, J. (2016) Nudging down thefts from insecure vehicles: A pilot study. International Journal of Police Science and Management.









April 2020