Exploring the role of the police in addressing public health issues

Collaborations between police and public health can and do work. The outcomes for both sectors are vastly improved when complex issues are approached in partnership.

The annual international Law Enforcement and Public Health (LEPH) conference brings together police, health practitioners, policymakers, researchers and civil society to explore the intersections between law enforcement and public health and to find cross-sectoral ways of working together. The LEPH conference offers a unique opportunity to challenge and diverge from traditional ways of thinking and doing. The annual conference is hosted by a different university and has so far taken place in locations as far flung as Melbourne, Philadelphia, Amsterdam, Toronto and Edinburgh.

Professor Nick Crofts, Director, Centre for Law Enforcement and Public Health and Nossal Institute honorary has been a driving force in shaping and organising the conference series.

Safety and security are prerequisites for physical and mental health; both sectors have a commitment to achieving these. They deal with different aspects of the same complex issues and they do come into conflict time to time, but when they sit down to create a partnership based on respect for each other’s role, more often than not both benefit from the experience.

Professor Nick Crofts

This year, the first regional European conference was hosted by the Police Education Unit at Umea University in Northern Sweden. Kicking off with an interactive drug policy forum, and opening speeches from the former Presidents of Poland and Kosovo, the three-day program featured session topics and presentations spanning an enormous range of public health issues, including violence against women, mental health, health security, and working with vulnerable communities, among others.

Pictured President Atifete Jahjaga, ex-President of Kosovo President Aleksandr Keasniewski, ex-President of Poland Associate Professor Inga Heyman, Edinburgh Napier University
Pictured Nick Crofts, ED of the Global Law Enforcement and Public Health Association; Atifete Jahjaga, former
president of Kosovo; Aleksander Kwaƛniewski, former president of Poland and Associate Professor Inga Heyman, Edinburgh
Napier University

Under the banner of its main theme ‘Together toward resilient communities’, the regional conference offered a safe space for participants to openly discuss and critically reflect on such questions as:

  • How do we bring all the relevant stakeholders together to build sturdy health security and resilient communities and services?
  • Why is the obvious intersection of law enforcement (especially police) and public health so inadequately recognised and poorly understood?
  • Can inclusive policing and police-public health partnerships overcome marginalisation?
  • What actually works ‘on the ground’ and in practice?

Police services, particularly Scotland and Portugal and Canada, are considered more advanced in terms of adopting public health approaches. Representatives from the services described the innovative programs they are currently trialling. Conference discussions highlighted the critical role of police as an ally to health and harm reduction strategies, the need to shift away from a focus on crime toward one of safety and wellbeing, the importance of creating collaborative partnerships with health and social services, and above all, the importance of putting people before politics.

Recognising the constraints of holding events only in the Global North, Professor Crofts is planning regional LEPH conferences in Africa and Australasia to  focus on law enforcement and public health in low- and middle- income settings. Professor Crofts invites funders to get in touch to explore opportunities to support regional LEPH conferences in the Global South to address our regions' unique law enforcement and public health challenges, especially in relation to Indigenous communities.

If you are you are an active participant in the law enforcement, public health and related disciplines and interest areas  you can enhance your knowledge, grow your networks and display your leadership by joining GLEPHA.

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Professor Nick Crofts