Policing the pandemic: Public health, law enforcement, and the use of force

  • Auke J. van Dijk Netherlands National Police, The Hague, Netherlands.
  • Clifford Shearing Law Faculty, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa; Griffith Institute of Criminology, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia; School of Criminology, University of Montreal, Montréal, QC, Canada.
  • Gary Cordner Education & Training Section, Baltimore Police Department, Baltimore, MD, USA.
Keywords: COVID-19, decoupled, crisis, criminal justice, Bittner


This article delves into the relationship between policing and public health in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The police have been seen as a crucial and extensively mobilised resource that has been utilised in responding to a public health crisis. The response to the pandemic shows the police mainly as enforcing state orders in which they have a traditional function related to the use of force. It is argued here that the classic definition of policing in terms of the use of force allows for the police becoming ‘decoupled’ from the institutional frames of criminal justice and public order. The perspective of a decoupled police would have real consequences for their involvement in public health. The article concludes with the conditions necessary for police to be a legitimate force in the public health domain.

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How to Cite
van DijkA. J., ShearingC., & CordnerG. (2022). Policing the pandemic: Public health, law enforcement, and the use of force. Journal of Community Safety and Well-Being, 7(2), 67-74. https://doi.org/10.35502/jcswb.246
Original Research