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Policing in a pandemic: how law enforcement communicates with the public

Ashley K. Farmer (Criminal Justice Sciences, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois, USA)
Allen Copenhaver (Criminal Justice, Lindsey Wilson College, Columbia, Kentucky, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 29 April 2021

Issue publication date: 8 February 2022




This study, a content analysis, aims to analyze general communications from law enforcement via agency websites about the COVID-19 pandemic and how this affected police roles. The authors study the extent to which police departments used their websites to inform the public about COVID-19, changes to their policies and additional information they felt necessary to give members of the public. This is important for understanding how the police inform the public during a pandemic and how the pandemic affected their police role.


The data gathered for this project came from a content analysis of the official websites of the largest municipal police departments in the USA. The researchers collected quantitative data from the official websites of law enforcement agencies who serve the 200 largest cities in the USA in March 2020 and coded the information from the websites to determine what themes were most prevalent.


The messages most often provided on department websites included information about COVID-19 (52% of websites included this information), modifications to services (33%) and informing users that services such as fingerprinting would be altered (42%). Websites also reminded the public of restrictions on public gatherings (25%) and stay-at-home orders (38%). Further logistic regression analyses explored significant associations among these variables to understand how police/public communications influenced the role of law enforcement during the pandemic.


Little is known about how law enforcement communicates online with the public during a global pandemic like COVID-19 or how this might affect the police role. Police departments can use their websites to communicate important information to citizens and keep communities updated. Policy implications suggest that agencies continue to update websites with important information and be direct about expectations from the public regarding compliance while also being transparent about how police roles might change.



Farmer, A.K. and Copenhaver, A. (2022), "Policing in a pandemic: how law enforcement communicates with the public", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 45 No. 1, pp. 124-138.



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