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Policing the pandemic in Australia and New Zealand: lessons for trust and legitimacy

Nicholas Evans (Nicholas Evans is based at the Police and Emergency Management, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia)

Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice

ISSN: 2056-3841

Article publication date: 29 December 2022




This paper aims to assess COVID-19 as presenting both a crisis and opportunity for police trust and legitimacy by considering the role of police in delivering the legislative requirements of government and enforcing various health orders across Australia and New Zealand.


The research relies on a mixed-methods analysis of national, commonwealth, state and territory policy, corporate police reports, academic commentary and media coverage throughout the pandemic. Survey data gathered during the pandemic relevant to trust and legitimacy in police and government is also analysed.


Five findings relating to police trust and legitimacy are identified. They reveal that police mostly did seize the pandemic as an opportunity to implement practices that enhanced perceptions of trust and legitimacy. However, even where police were able to leverage COVID-19 as an opportunity, the protracted nature of the pandemic posed a challenge for maintaining trust and legitimacy gains. The findings also underscore the importance of a continued focus on building trust and legitimacy post-pandemic to counter any lingering consequences.

Research limitations/implications

The applicability of the findings outside the Australian and New Zealand context may be limited, given differences in jurisdictional legislative frameworks and policing operational environments.

Practical implications

This study identifies good community engagement practice for pandemic policing, contributes to communication strategies for managing trust decay during an emergency, forecasts ongoing trust and legitimacy challenges to policing’s post-pandemic operational environment and enhances aspects of post-pandemic recruitment approaches.


The findings contribute to emerging police practice and research on building and sustaining trust and legitimacy during periods of uncertainty and volatility, such as during and after a pandemic.



The author would like to acknowledge and thank Dr. Tracey Green for her assistance and feedback on the research.


Evans, N. (2022), "Policing the pandemic in Australia and New Zealand: lessons for trust and legitimacy", Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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