2020 COVID-19 Urban Research-to-Action Award: Race, Place, and Policing During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Multi-City Study

PI: Jessica T. Simes, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, BU College of Arts & Sciences (CAS)
Co-PI: Jaquelyn L. Jahn, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Department of Sociology, BU CAS and PhD candidate, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Low-level policing—which includes enforcement and arrests based on quality-of-life offenses such as disorderly conduct, property damage, unauthorized public gathering, or trespassing—has devastated communities of color in the United States. Simes and Jahn will examine if and how COVID-19 has changed low-level policing, particularly with regard to the racial inequities in rates of police-initiated interactions in cities. Communities of color have suffered the consequences of over-policing and have disproportionately higher COVID-19 infection and death rates. With police taking on public health enforcement alongside standard duties, distrust of the police is all the more consequential. By examining police-investigated crime and 911 call data from eight U.S. cities, the researchers will ascertain any differences in policing before and after stay-at-home orders were issued. They will link this data with sociodemographic factors to study racial residential segregation and concentrated depravation, as well as virus exposure risk, to understand trends in policing during the pandemic. An interactive temporal map of the data will help researchers, activists, policymakers, and the public to understand changes in policing across neighborhoods during the pandemic.


Jahn, J. L., Simes, J. T., Cowger, T. L., & Davis, B. A. (2022). Racial disparities in neighborhood arrest rates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Urban Health, 99(1), 67-76. *Earlier version published as an IOC Working Paper

Simes, J. T. (2020). The ecology of race and punishment across cities. City & Community, 19(1), 169–190.

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