Police and Public Health in Partnership

The Global Commission on HIV and the Law recently conducted a web discussion of steps to implement the Commission’s recommendations for better harmonizing law and HIV control.  One of the questions for discussion was:

What are examples of innovative or non-traditional partnerships that can be used to strategically advance human-rights based responses to HIV … ?

 

Nick Crofts posted an interesting essay elaborating on “three falacies”:

  • that police are merely passive implementers of the law; so that if the law is reformed, police attitudes and behaviours towards MARP communities will automatically fall in line;
  • that police are the enemy, and that their behaviours are not amenable to change without confrontation; and/or
  • that training and sensitization of police is adequate to change behaviours of police towards MARP communities.

I agree with him, and have seen these beliefs hinder action for a long time. Nick has some interesting thoughts about ways to move forward. He also talked about the work of The Law Enforcement and HIV Network (LEAHN) , which is working to bride the gap between police and public health agencies. It’s worth a few minutes to read it.

LEAHN is sponsoring its second global conference next Spring in Amsterdam.

An International Meeting of Public Health and Law Enforcement

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.

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