Vulnerability and policing research centre launches

A ground-breaking new research centre aims to change how the police, public services and local government work together to help vulnerable people.

The Vulnerability & Policing Futures Research Centre is a joint initiative led by the University of Leeds and University of York and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

The £10 million centre (£8.23 million contribution from ESRC) brings together a wide range of national and regional partners to study how policing and other services can better tackle problems associated with vulnerabilities. These include exploitation by county lines drug networks, online child sexual exploitation, domestic abuse, modern slavery, mental illness and homelessness.

The launch event, on 12 October at the School of Law, University of Leeds, outlines the Centre’s ambitious agenda and brings together police, councils and representatives of partner organisations from across Yorkshire. It also includes a talk from Zoë Billingham CBE, who served as Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services for 12 years and is current Chair of Norfolk & Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. She will highlight the importance of the Centre’s research for policing, health and beyond.

An important dimension of the Centre’s immediate work begins in Bradford. The researchers will analyse police, health, education, and social care datasets to gather new insights in how organisations work together to address vulnerability, as well as vulnerable people’s experiences.

The research team will map the services used by vulnerable people who are in contact with the police in Bradford to better understand the nature, distribution, and concentrations of vulnerabilities across the city. The team will study how different services interact, and how they can best work together to prevent harm arising from vulnerabilities. Working collaboratively with partner organisations, the team will help inform improvements in the provision of integrated services for vulnerable individuals, groups and neighbourhoods.

Professor Adam Crawford speaking to an audience in a lecture theatre at the Vulnerability & Policing Futures Research Centre launch event in Leeds

Professor Adam Crawford (University of Leeds and University of York), Co-Director of the Vulnerability & Policing Futures Research Centre, said: “Collaboration between different organisations and sectors is absolutely crucial if we are going to address the challenges that vulnerable people face and that organisations come up against when trying to respond to these issues.

“Understanding how different local services work together in Bradford, and subsequently Leeds, will be incredibly valuable. It will enable us to identify where the research can be used to improve services and inform how public services from different cities across the country can best work together to improve outcomes for vulnerable people.”

Professor Charlie Lloyd (University of York), Co-Director of the Vulnerability & Policing Futures Research Centre, said: “The police are increasingly having to respond to a wide range of social problems involving vulnerable people, such as homelessness and mental health illnesses. They are often a ‘service of first resort’ yet they are not always the most appropriate organisation to deal with these issues.

“This raises fundamental questions about the nature of ‘policing’ and how organisations can best work together to respond to these complex challenges. Our Centre aims to offer evidence-based solutions to this through our research.”

Professor Alison Park, interim executive chair of ESRC said: “We are pleased to be investing in this new centre, which will examine how vulnerable groups interact with the police, and how policy can evolve to tackle harms such as exploitation and mental illness. Working with national and regional partners, the centre will provide robust research evidence that can be used by policymakers and practitioners to help understand, prevent and reduce vulnerabilities. For ESRC, research centres are major investments which aim to have significant economic and societal impact. They also add value by creating new research infrastructure, supporting researchers to develop new skills, and encouraging interdisciplinary working.”