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Researchers Explore Impact Of Police Action On Population Health

The authors of a new study find the impact of police action on the health of the public.

WASHINGTON — Policing may be a conspicuous yet not well-understood driver of population health as law enforcement directly comes under interaction with many people, the authors of a new study from the University of Washington have found.

The study, published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, tries to decipher how law enforcement impacts mental, physical, and social health and how the well-being of a community is a complex challenge, involving many disciplines of academics and research like psychology, sociology, and sociology criminology.

“We needed a map for how to think about the complex issues at the intersection of policing and health,” said lead author Maayan Simckes. 

Simckes is a recent doctoral graduate from the University’s Department of Epidemiology who worked on this study as part of her dissertation.

So, Simckes set out to create a conceptual model depicting the complex relationship between policing and population health and assembled an interdisciplinary team of researchers to collaborate.

“This model shows how different types of encounters with policing can affect population health at multiple levels, through different pathways, and that factors like community characteristics and state and local policy can play a role,” said Simckes, who currently works for the Washington State Department of Health.

The study, published in early June in the journal Social Science & Medicine, walks through the various factors that may help explain the health impacts of policing by synthesizing the published research across several disciplines.

“This study provides a useful tool to researchers studying policing and population health across many disciplines. It has the potential to help guide research on the critical topic of policing and health for many years to come,” said senior author Anjum Hajat, an associate professor in the University of Washington’s Department of Epidemiology.

The study points out when considering individual-level effects that “after physical injury and death, mental health may be the issue most frequently discussed in the context of police-community interaction. One U.S. study found that among men, anxiety symptoms were significantly associated with frequency of police stops and perception of the intrusiveness of the encounter.”

Among the many other research examples explored in the new model, the researchers also examine the cyclic 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 may lead to more concentrated crime.

Consequently, it may be “impossible” to determine whether police practices caused a neighborhood to experience more crime or if those practices were in response to crime. However, the model aims to capture these complex “bidirectional” relationships.

“Our model underscores the importance of reforming policing practices and policies to ensure they effectively promote population wellbeing at all levels,” said Simckes.

“I hope this study ignites more dialogue and action around the roles and responsibilities of those in higher education and in clinical and public-health professions for advancing and promoting social justice and equity in our communities.”

Social Science & Medicine is a peer-reviewed academic journal covering social science research on health, including anthropology, economics, geography, psychology, social epidemiology, social policy, sociology, medicine, health care practice, policy, and organization.

As per reports of 2018, about 20 percent of Americans experience mental illness, with 1 in 25 experiencing a serious mental illness. Despite the prevalence of mental illness, many people suffer without seeking treatment.

(With inputs from ANI)

(Edited by Amrita Das and Ritaban Misra)