Aggressive policing as a public health problem

The medical field has paid increased attention to the negative health effects of systemic racism, discrimination, poverty and other social forces known to lead to poorer health. This includes an awareness of the need to assess and address racial and other health differences and to focus on the principles of diversity, equality and inclusion. We have gone beyond the scope of these questions as moral precepts to understand how they relate to individual and public health.

The discussion about the harm to health of aggressive policing has also increased in the past 2 years, spurred on by the frequent and publicized deaths of black, indigenous and colored people (BIPOC). What was seen as a political issue is now seen as a public health / health inequality issue. Two articles that helped change the medical community’s view of these issues were published in 2021:

Both pieces help illustrate the ongoing shift in how police violence and aggressive policing have specific and disproportionate effects on color communities.

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The first article contains several key points in its claim that police concerns should be viewed as health problems. It starts with this statement:

“Marginalized communities have a long history of identifying systemic racism and the damage caused by police violence to health and wellbeing, and recognizing their roots in the oppression of black and indigenous communities.”

The article cites data suggesting that BIPOC is much more likely to be killed by the police than white Americans, and notes that death by a police officer is the sixth leading cause of death for young black men. Likewise, black and indigenous women are more likely to be killed by a police officer than their white counterparts.

The second article also looks at specific data on the differential effects of what is termed “overexposure” to aggressive police strategies in black communities, which serves to widen the health gaps that already exist in those communities. The authors of the article noted:

“Indeed, aggressive police strategies used by law enforcement agencies across the country have been believed to affect health and wellbeing, even for people who have not had contact with the police themselves. Perhaps more importantly, aggressive policing contributes to significant health inequalities among the population as these practices focus on and therefore exacerbate the health challenges faced by racist populations. “

The authors of the article cited data from an organization called Campaign Zero.3 This group’s website contains data that also helps highlight the negative effects of aggressive policing or what they term “broken windows” policing. This form of policing has resulted in excessive surveillance of color communities, resulting in excessive violence that has resulted in unnecessary deaths.

“Meanwhile, the vast majority of low-level nonviolent arrests occur in encounters that often escalate into deadly violence. For example, in 2014 police killed at least 287 people involved in minor crime and harmless activities such as sleeping in parks, using drugs, looking “suspicious” or having a mental crisis. These activities are often symptoms of underlying problems such as drug addiction, homelessness and mental illness that should be treated by health professionals and social workers rather than the police. “

These 3 examples of the evolving understanding of how to view police aggressiveness illustrate the need for future research and data collection. They also highlight the need for PAs, nurses and other medical providers to assess the health impacts of high-impact policing on their patients and advocate changes to a police system that further exacerbate existing health inequalities.


1. Fleming PJ, Lopez WD, Spolum M, Anderson RE, Reyes AG, Schulz AJ. Policing is a public health issue: the important role of health educators. Health education behavior. 2021: 10901981211010010. doi: 10.1177 / 10901981211010010

2. Esposito M, Larimore S, Lee H. Aggressive Policing, Health and Health Equity. Health Policy Letter. Health matters. April 30, 2021. doi: 10.1377 / hpb20210412.997570.

3. Campaign zero.

This article originally appeared on Clinical Advisor

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