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Policing and Social Media

Our research expertise spans digital policing, democratic policing, governance, and legitimacy. We are currently conducting research on police social media practices in two areas. The first relates to enhancing police communication and responsiveness in line with a democratic model of policing (publications forthcoming). The second, conducted with our colleague Dr Adam Aitken, relates to identifying best practices in connection to police engagement online before, during, and after mega-events and in particular, football matches (2023). Taken together, we are keen to better understand how social media and the online world can facilitate policing at a distance.   


Adam Aitken and others, Police Use of Twitter During a Sporting Mega-Event, Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, Volume 17, 2023, paad016, 

For more information, please contact Dr Liam Ralph or Dr Paul Robinson

Crime, Harm and Corruption in Special Economic Zones

Dr Alexandra Hall's current research centres on the political and criminogenic dimensions of special economic zones (SEZs). First, she is writing up the findings from a recently completed ISRF-funded project, which is an in-depth interdisciplinary study of the new Teesside Freeport development during the first stages of its implementation. It seeks to understand how freeports are designed and through what institutional support they gain traction; the forms of criminogenic harm emerging in and around freeports; and how channels of cooperation between key stakeholders and publics might be built to help protect society and the environment. Second, she is working as a senior researcher for the UNODC on the first Global Analysis of Crimes that Affect the Environment, with a project specifically focusing on SEZs and criminal environmental commodities and pollution.

Alex’s previous work on goods that are illicitly traded and/or manufactured, undertaken with Centre member Professor Georgios Antonopoulos, found that global SEZs play a key role in the global supply chain of illicit medicines, tobacco, cocaine and counterfeit goods. As SEZs continue to proliferate, with close to 6000 zones in operation in the global economy today, increased knowledge of the criminogenic potential of zone policies and how best to respond is of increasing importance.

You can read Alex’s criminological account of SEZs written with Professors Georgios Antonopoulos, Rowland Atkinson and Tanya Wyatt in a recent volume of the British Journal of Criminology here:

Coerced Debt in the Context of Domestic Abuse

Recent studies have demonstrated that diverse forms of economic abuse occur within intimate relationships – often alongside other forms of physical, sexual and psychological abuse – with serious consequences for women’s physical safety and economic security. Often overlooked in this literature, however, is the role that debt plays as a means of exercising coercive control. As consumer lending has permeated British life, abusive partners have begun obtaining credit in the victim-survivors name through fraud, force and misinformation. This abuse is now commonly referred to as coerced debt and emerging research shows that the immediate and long-term impacts for victim-survivors can be devastating – damaging their credit records, depleting their savings, and compromising their ability to access employment, services, housing and safety. Yet despite this knowledge, very little is known about the nature, impact, and consequences of coerced debt for victim-survivors in Britain, or the role it might play in trapping them in abusive relationships. Consequently, policymakers, practitioners and financial institutions are currently ill-equipped to take the necessary steps to protect victim-survivors of coerced debt and prevent future incidents.

To fill this gap in knowledge, the project uses semi-structured interviews with victim-survivors of coerced debt, domestic abuse advocates, criminal and civil justice professionals and the financial services industry to examine: (1) the occurrence of coerced debt in abusive relationships; (2) victims’ experiences of coerced debt and the consequences it has for their lives; (3) the links between coerced debt and other forms of domestic abuse; and (4) potential legal and financial responses to coerced debt in Britain. A feminist political economy framework guides this study and informs the analysis, enabling the research team to engage with wider questions about structural gender inequality, economic insecurity, neoliberal reform, austerity and debt. This knowledge will feed into broader academic and policy discussions about the importance of financial safety and economic stability for victim-survivors of domestic abuse. 

This project is conducted by Dr Clare Wiper in the Department of Social Sciences at Northumbria University. The project is funded by the British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant (2021-23).

Evaluating (semi)-autonomous systems in policing and national security: a new framework based on the concept of ‘intelligence’

This ongoing project presents a new matrix framework for evaluation and grading autonomous systems used by police forces in England and Wales, based on lessons from existing processes designed to define and assess ‘intelligence’. It is crucial that models safeguard rather than undermine fundamental freedoms. Research visits were carried out to get input from seasoned police officers on our draft matrix. There has been a keen interest from police forces, as well as key stakeholders from the Police Digital Service (PDS), Centre for Data and Analytics (CDAP), and the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC). This project was awarded funding by Northumbria University’s ‘Seed Funding’.

For more information, please contact Prof. Marion Oswald, Luke Chambers (PhD Candidate), or Angela Paul (PhD Candidate).

Visible Policing: the Affective Properties of Police Buildings, Images and Material Culture

Over recent decades there has been what many have called a 'visual turn' within the social sciences. Within visual criminology important research agendas have developed on prisons and community punishments, the fear of crime and punitiveness, and media representations of crime and deviance. Against this context, it is difficult to understand why policing has not also been more significantly subjected to research that is theoretically and methodologically informed by the visual. One of the reasons why this lacuna is particularly puzzling is that there is a long-standing body of work within the sociology of policing that emphasizes the significance of symbolism, that police embody state sovereignty, and that there are strong performative and communicative dimensions to police activity. Police uniform and patrol cars, for example, together with ceremonial flags and regalia, are considered significant to public perception, trust and legitimacy. Analysis of these is further developed in this study but wider dimensions of visibility are also included. The location, design and architecture of police buildings, material cultural representations of policing in children's toys, and social media imagery of policing are among the novel dimensions of police visibility considered in this research. No previous study has considered these broad terms or tested public perceptions of these different dimensions using visual research methods.

In policy terms, visibility in policing has been primarily addressed in narrow terms regarding the potential for patrol officers to provide reassurance to anxious publics. In the context of recent policy debates about future deployment of diminishing resources there have been frequent commitments to the provision of visible frontline policing. Against a background of funding cuts imposed in the years after 2010, government ministers have tended to claim that such reductions could be focused on aspects of policing that would not reduce visible police presence. Opponents, however, have argued that spending cuts ought to be reversed in order to preserve frontline services. From whatever side of the debate, the provision of visible patrols has been presented in terms of staff on foot or in vehicles as a physical presence in public space. Building upon an emerging body of research in sociology, criminology, media, cultural studies, and human geography, this project examines the nature and impact of visible policing through the study of a wider range of activities and material practices that increasingly shape perceptions of policing, but have been neglected in research terms. Three strands of visibility are identified:

  1. The symbolic power of police stations. This is particularly important since the architecture of the police estate changes as new properties (often in new locations) adopt contemporary forms and as pressure on resources leads to co-location with other agencies in shared premises.
  2. The symbolic properties of police material culture, including ceremonial uniforms, flags, badges, tourist souvenirs, and children's toys. This strand will incorporate analysis in terms of the organisational and professional identity of police staff as well as public perceptions of legitimacy.
  3. Police visibility in social media, incorporating official police accounts as well as those owned by individual officers, staff associations and other networks. These will be considered in terms of their impacts on the public, including whether the police play an online role analogous to real world patrol, for example, in providing for public reassurance.

Photo elicitation and photo narrative techniques will be used to generate data that will address the key research questions and also provide a body of visual material that will inform focus group discussion. Visibility will be enhanced through the dissemination of findings via a dedicated website, a public exhibition and via production of a documentary film.

The project runs until 2021. It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and run in conjunction with Edge Hill University and the Open University. For more information contact Liam Ralph, or visit

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