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Groundbreaking research centre to explore how policing can better service the needs of vulnerable groups

Posted on 30 November 2021

The universities of York and Leeds are to jointly lead a £10m research centre dedicated to better understanding how the police and other services can prevent and reduce vulnerabilities.

Photo of police in uniformThe police are increasingly at the frontline of managing the risk of harm to the most vulnerable in society.

The Vulnerability and Policing Futures Research Centre is the first of its kind to study how vulnerabilities - such as exploitation by county lines drug networks, online child sexual exploitation, domestic abuse, modern slavery, mental illness and homelessness - affect policing.

The centre is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and will be an international focal point for research, policy, practice and public debate around these issues.

It is one of six research centres announced by the ESRC today, all of which will tackle urgent social and economic challenges.


The announcement comes at a time of unprecedented change to public services, with police increasingly at the frontline of managing the risk of harm to the most vulnerable in society.

The centre will explore how the police, public service providers (such as health, social care and housing) and other partner organisations can collaborate to prevent and respond to changing vulnerabilities and inequalities.

The centre will draw on expertise from the Police Foundation, the Universities of Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield as well as Durham and Lancaster universities and Monash and Temple universities in Australia and the US.

It will have significant reach in shaping policy and practice through a network of 38 regional, national and international project partners, and it will develop and train the next generation of academics to advance new approaches to vulnerabilities research.


Co-director Professor Charlie Lloyd, from the Department of Social Work and Social Policy, University of York, said: “We are delighted to be taking forward our ambitious and innovative new Centre.

“As an increasing proportion of police time involves responding to vulnerable people, such as those caught up in county lines or modern slavery, a real need has arisen to understand how policing can either exacerbate or mitigate vulnerability, and demonstrate how, in the future, the police and other services can work together to prevent and reduce such vulnerabilities.

“Our Centre will advance this ambitious agenda, with the clear aim of identifying evidence-based approaches that better serve the most vulnerable people in our society.”

Co-director Adam Crawford, Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice in the University of Leeds’ School of Law, said: “We are really excited about working with such a strong team of interdisciplinary scholars and professionals from diverse public and third sector organisations. Together, we will build the knowledge base and co-produce innovative services that address the causes and compounding effects of contemporary vulnerabilities, and harness the distinctive contributions of different service providers to promote prevention and harm reduction through joined-up, problem-based strategies.

“This demands that we rethink the role and contribution of the police and partners within multi-agency responses to vulnerability, and forge an evidence base that will underpin new policies and practices that provide protection to the most vulnerable in society.”

Chief Constable Andy Marsh, Chief Executive of the College of Policing, said: “I am delighted that the new Vulnerability and Policing Futures Research Centre, led by the universities of York and Leeds, has been awarded funding from the Economic and Social Research Council.

“As a key partner, the College of Policing will support the work of the centre in finding innovative solutions and increasing our understanding of vulnerability.

“The centre will be a focus of excellence in policing research, developing evidence based approaches to support officers and staff across England and Wales to understand, respond to and protect vulnerable people from threats and harm.

“Issues around vulnerability cannot be addressed by policing in isolation. We welcome the centre’s focus on developing effective partnerships between different public sector organisations to help manage harm and keep people safe.”

Julie Bass, Chief Executive of the Health and Care Social Enterprise, Turning Point, said: “Turning Point is looking forward to working closely with the Centre. We work with over 130,000 people across the UK and our involvement, along with other providers, will enable the voice and experiences of people who are at risk for example as a result of their mental health or substance use, to inform the research.

"The centre will explore how the police, working with local partner organisations, can better respond to people with a range of vulnerabilities and address the inequalities so often felt."


Dr Annette Bramley, director of the N8 Research Partnership – the collective body for the north’s eight research intensive universities, said: "I’d like to congratulate everyone involved in the Vulnerability and Policing Futures Research Centre on this successful ESRC Centre Grant application. It is a source of pride that the centre – which will undertake vital work on behalf of some of society’s most at risk groups – grew out of relationships forged by the N8 Policing Research Partnership.

"How to police the exploitation and abuse of the vulnerable, and how to put victims at the heart of any new strategies, is one of the most critical issues our police forces have to address. This new centre will harness the N8 Policing Research Partnership’s on-going commitment to fostering collaborations in order to enhance the services forces provide to those who need it most."

Further information:

For more information, visit the Vulnerability and Policing Futures Research Centre’s webpages.

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