A specific police action, an arrest or a shooting has an immediate and direct impact on the people involved, but how widespread is the reverberation of that action in the community? What are the health consequences for a particular, if not necessarily geographically defined, population?
The authors of a new UW-led study addressing these issues write that “the police can be a noticeable but poorly understood factor in the health of the population” as law enforcement interacts directly with large numbers of people .
Understanding how law enforcement affects the mental, physical, social, and structural health and wellbeing of a community is a complex challenge that involves many academic and research disciplines such as criminology, sociology, psychology, public health, and research on social justice, Environment and economy are involved and history.
“We needed a card to ponder the complex issues at the intersection of police and health,” said lead author Maayan Simckes, a recent PhD graduate from UW’s epidemiology department who was working on the study as part of her dissertation.
So, Simckes said, she set out to develop a conceptual model that depicts the complex relationship between police and population health and put together an interdisciplinary team of researchers to work together.
“This model shows how different types of police encounters at different levels and through different avenues can affect the health of the population and that factors such as community characteristics and state and local policies can play a role,” said Simckes, who is currently working for the Washington state health department works.
The study published in the journal in early June Social Sciences & Medicine, walks through the various factors that may help explain the health impacts of policing by pooling published research across multiple disciplines.
“This study provides a useful tool for researchers studying police and population health in many different disciplines. It has the potential to guide research on the critical police and health issue for many years to come, ”said senior author Anjum Hajat, associate professor in the UW Department of Epidemiology
For example, when looking at individual effects, the study points out that “mental health after physical injury and death is possibly the most talked about topic in the context of police-community interaction … A US study found that men experience symptoms of anxiety occur “significantly related to the frequency of police checks and the perception of intrusiveness of the encounter.
Among the many other research examples examined in the new model, the researchers also examine the cyclical nature of policing and population health. They point out that police stops tend to cluster in disadvantaged communities and “saturating these communities with invasive tactics can lead to increased crime concentration”. As a result, it may be “impossible” to determine whether police practices resulted in increased crime in a neighborhood or whether these practices were a response to crime. However, the aim of the model is to capture these complex “bidirectional” relationships.
“Our model underscores the importance of reforming police practice and policy to ensure that it effectively promotes the well-being of the population at all levels,” said Simckes. “I hope this study stimulates more dialogue and action around the roles and responsibilities of academia, clinical and public health professionals to advance and promote social justice and equity in our communities.”
Co-authors are Dale Willits, Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, WSU; Michael McFarland, Department of Sociology, Florida State University; Cheryl McFarland, Family Health Consortium in Central Jersey, New Jersey; Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, Department of Epidemiology and Harbourview Injury Prevention and Research Center, UW.
To speak to Simckes, contact Jake Ellison underson [email protected]