Engaging police in public health: critical issues and perspectives
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Nossal Institute, School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne, Australia
Publication date: 2023-04-27
Popul. Med. 2023;5(Supplement):A1010
The public health community has long been aware of the central role of the law in creating healthy physical and social environments, and in responding to public health challenges. However, the critical role of the law enforcement and justice sector in achieving a multitude of public health goals has been neglected or ignored. This sector includes police, public prosecutors, magistrates, and coroners. Globally, no Master of Public Health course teaches comprehensively of the role of police in achieving public health goals, a major oversight given their ubiquitous involvement. Unfortunately, cultures of police misogyny, racism, brutality and oppression exist in many jurisdictions. There also remains a severely limited understanding of the critical nexus between law enforcement and public health both in the legal community and the public health community. The actual and potential role that engaging police in the public health enterprise can have in both police reform and in achieving public health goals is also underestimated. Although the security sector is a key partner in many public health programmes, its identity as an important part of the public health endeavour is rarely recognised. This absence of recognition has resulted in a generally inadequate approach to research and investigation of ways in which law enforcement can be effectively engaged to actively promote and protect public health as part of a broader multisectoral public health effort. This is true of police at both operational and strategic levels. There are many police officers in all jurisdictions seeking alternative ways to achieve their goals of community safety and wellbeing. They are interested to collaborate, including at the most senior level, once the issues are understood from their perspective. Many police officers are leading innovation, keen to share their initiatives, e.g. with trauma-informed approaches, domestic violence prevention and response, responses to mental health crises, suicide prevention and even harm reduction and safe sex promotion. These opportunities also contribute to the professionalization of police services – a virtuous circle. The international conference series on Law Enforcement and Public Health (LEPH) was begun in 2012 to bring together the different sectors to explore joined-up approaches to common public health issues currently criminalized or over-policed, and to find common values and goals underlying disparate cultures and languages. The Global Law Enforcement and Public Health Association (GLEPHA) grew from the conferences in 2017, to create a venue where the different sectors – often in silos or even conflict in daily life – could come together in a safe environment to build understanding and capacity for respectful partnership approaches to complex societal issues. This workshop will: 1. Provide case studies of innovative partnership approaches to complex societal and public health issues that have been criminalized or over-policed, 2. Present learnings about effective and sustainable police and public health partnerships in achieving optimum community safety and wellbeing at all levels, in all jurisdictions, 3. Propose an agenda for future research program
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