Study launched to examine public confidence in police

21 October 2015

Public confidence in police is to be the focus of a new £130,000 study by Warwick Business School.

Kevin Morrell, Associate Professor of Governance at Warwick Business School, will be analysing data collected by West Midlands Police over the last 12 years on public confidence, to dig below the surface of what is now a large dataset and potentially suggest fresh scope to analyse this important topic.

“The West Midlands Police database is unique in UK and possibly the world too,” said Dr Morrell. “There is a consistency and sophistication in the way West Midlands Police has asked questions of the public, investing over time in this important dimension to policing."

The study was set up after Dr Morrell was handed a prestigious award of £130,000 by the British Academy - UK's national body for the humanities and social sciences - to fund a Mid-Career Fellowship. It is one of just 35 awarded this year, with the aim of these is to "support outstanding individual researchers with excellent research proposals, and to promote public understanding and engagement with humanities and social sciences."

Police officer posing with car in the 1990s
Image courtesy of West Midlands Police: Flickr
The old Bill: Kevin Morrell will be looking at archives to see how public perception and confidence in the police has changed

Public confidence can be measured in a number of ways – for example, are the police a visible presence? Are they reliable? Do the public have faith in them and their leadership? Do they trust them to be fair and impartial? Are they confident in their abilities? Are they happy with their tactics and priorities? And what are their concerns about crime, or the fear of crime?

Dr Morrell added: “Public confidence is historically important because of sustaining that connection between the police and the public.

“It is perhaps more relevant than ever because the police are governed differently now compared to only a few years ago, with a shift to a Police and Crime Commissioner model. Commissioners are responsible for constituencies just like MPs. However, participation in the elections was low and there is a potential democratic deficit, with accountability systems still emerging.

"The central challenge perhaps is that most of the public don’t come into contact with the police, and this makes measuring the attitudes of a constituency in a reliable and valid way difficult.

"We know confidence can be affected by national or media events, which can have nothing to do with local police forces, but hot issues can still affect confidence in local agencies, so it is often a difficult thing to measure.

"Historically we know across different forces, and internationally, that policing tactics can have an adverse impact on some minorities, and influence public confidence. So it is important to factor this in when it comes to any discussion on public confidence in the police."

Police on patrol at Godiva festival in Coventry
Image courtesy of West Midlands Police: Flickr
On the beat: Police on patrol at the Godiva Festival. Visibility is one way to measure public confidence according to Dr Morrell.

Dr Morrell believes planned reductions in funding for police forces may play a significant factor in influencing public confidence in the future. In the case of West Midlands Police, over the next five years 20 per cent of funding is planned to be cut, which is a concern when it comes to policing effectively and retaining the trust of the public.

“This study will be useful because it is not just looking backwards at confidence over time,” said Dr Morrell. “It is important in a society for there to be confidence in the police for people to go about their daily lives. For counter-terrorism, and solving any crime for that matter, intelligence is incredibly important, and one aspect of this is public confidence in the police.

“The most important thing is that this project is intended to be helpful for the public, in trying to understand what things contribute to the public good in a well-functioning society.”

To mark the launch of the project, Dr Morrell organised, alongside The Centre for Operational Police Research (COPR), a workshop on public confidence in policing.  The event featured delegates and guest speakers from West Midlands Police, West Mercia Police and Warwickshire Police. 

Kevin Morrell is part of the Strategy and International Business Group responsible for teaching courses including the MSc International Business and MSc Marketing & Strategy.

Join the conversation

WBS on social media