By Scott Burris
We know, and now most people acknowledge, that police activity has some clear, and in some instances intentional, effects on health. To start with the obvious, police are instrumental in reducing the number of people who are murdered, assaulted, raped, or otherwise terrorized. Policing – like any form of social intervention – can also have unintended consequences. There is, for example, considerable evidence that criminal law and legal practices can increase risks of HIV and other harms among drug users.
These facts are well-established and pretty well recognized. So now the question is not whether policing has health consequences, but rather whether social and health work is to be seen as an integral element of law enforcement in the 21st century. In much of their day to day work, police are engaged in far more than the prevention of crime or the maintenance of social order. This is something we all know, something that has probably always been true of police work, something that is shaping a lot of programs around the world, and yet something we need to talk more openly about.