How did the interest in your specific research topic begin?
Rylan Simpson: The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed contemporary society and the ways in which people operate and engage with each other. As a policing scholar, I was curious about how such changes could impact policing, and, particularly, people’s perceptions of police officers.
According to your research, how are police who use PPE perceived by the public?
Rylan Simpson: With few exceptions, police are perceived more favourably when using PPE than when not using PPE.
What are some of the implications that the use of PPE could have for police in the future?
Rylan Simpson: Policing a public health crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic, presents many challenges for both health and safety. Frontline police officers cannot stay home and often cannot socially distance because of the unique demands of their job. For such reason, police must identify ways to help keep themselves safe so that they can then help to keep the public safe (e.g., police must not only continue to respond to calls for service during the pandemic, but they must also minimize the risk of spreading the virus while attending such calls). One of the ways in which police can achieve this goal is via their use of PPE.
According to your research, are some forms of PPE (different items) perceived more favourably than others by participants?
Rylan Simpson: Yes, different items of PPE elicit different perceptual effects. For example, surgical masks, N95 masks, and face shields, elicit favourable perceptions. Full-face respirator masks elicit mixed effects, with some negative effects in the context of perceived aggression and intimidation. Goggles, on the other hand, elicit no significant effects.
Why is this research topic important to you personally?
Rylan Simpson: I am passionate about conducting research, particularly research that is relevant, timely, and can exhibit a meaningful impact on practice. In this case, my findings are helping police leaders make evidence-based decisions about the use of PPE by their officers.
Can you offer reflections on the process of publishing this piece?
Rylan Simpson: The first article published as part of this project in the Journal of Experimental Criminology has been very well-received by both the practitioner and scholarly communities. It now has more than 4,000 accesses and has been covered by several media outlets.
The second article has just been published in a special issue of Policing: An International Journal, which is dedicated to policing during the pandemic.
In your opinion, what are some important next steps going forward for police and PPE use?
Rylan Simpson: For as long as the pandemic continues and a significant risk of virus transmission exists, I suspect that police will continue to use PPE as appropriate. Research should continue to explore the effects of officer appearance on people’s perceptions of police in all different contexts.