COVID-19 and Policing: A Qualitative Study of Sheriff Departments in Rural Indiana

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Criminal Justice Review

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The main objective of this research was to explore and analyze the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on practices in law enforcement and jails, with a specific focus on sheriff departments serving in small, rural counties in the state of Indiana. This study identified and analyzed various issues and trends pertaining to COVID-19's effect upon jail and offender management, patrol and criminal investigation, personnel and offender safety, public service and expectations, courthouse trial and case management, and community trust in sheriff departments. Semi-structured interviews were employed with current sheriffs working in four different counties in Indiana in this qualitative research. The results showed that COVID-19 has brought to the forefront two major themes: (a) precautions taken by sheriff departments against COVID-19 and (b) changes in the way the criminal justice system works. Findings were further grouped into three categories according to each sheriff’s sentiments: negative (e.g., increase in expenses, loss of workforce, and mental health), positive (e.g., decrease in the workload and decrease in jail population), and mixed (e.g., precautions against COVID-19, changing crime patterns, and trust). The study concluded that COVID-19 caused a wave of change that sent ripples through these communities, the criminal justice system, and sheriff departments in particular.