The job of police officers is closely connected with considerations of public health despite the general perception that two specializations have different approaches to reducing violence and ensuring the well-being of communities. There has been limited collaboration between public health researchers and criminologists for improving such outcomes as road traffic safety, substance abuse prevention, or prisoner health. The aim of the current reflection is discussing the encounters of a police officer with public health specialist on a daily basis for determining possible points of collaboration and identifying challenges that require addressing in the future.
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To get first-hand information on how the law enforcement interacts with public health, an informal interview was held with a police officer, Mrs. Jones. According to the interviewee, both public health and policing have been complementary professions that addressed the most pressing public well-being challenges. Such issues as the opioid epidemic, human trafficking, sexual assault, suicides, gun violence, injuries related to traffic, intimate partner violence, and many others are all problems that public health professionals and law enforcement address on a daily basis. In particular, there are vast opportunities for both spheres to collaborate for the purpose of violence prevention within communities.
Mrs. Jones was honest and said that there were reoccurring cases in which the collaboration and communication between police officers and public health specialists were ineffective. She mentioned that special ‘levers’ were needed to change the behaviors of communities, improve their access to important services, and expand the body of knowledge through collaborative research (Greenberg & Frattaroli, 2017). In order to achieve success in this, law enforcement and public health should expand the understanding of each discipline and learn from real-life examples.
Mrs. Jones indicated that there were cases in which public health professionals failed to address the challenge of public endangerment. She described a situation in which a seriously injured patient tried to escape his ward and threatened a nurse with a knife. The healthcare staff in the facility took it upon themselves to calm the patient down, which resulted in one of the nurses being stabbed in the arm. Only after this altercation did the staff call law enforcement. Mrs. Jones said that had the nurses called the police initially, there would have had more chances of managing the situation effectively because of the support of skilled officers.
However, Mrs. Jones also admitted to herself not being very attentive to the collaboration with public health professionals. For example, she had a case of dealing with a road incident witness who was under the influence of a drug substance. The officer tried to ask the witness some questions but he was not cooperative, so she decided to take him to the police station, where the witness experienced a severe mental breakdown. Mrs. Jones said that she should have called for the assistance of medics who would get the witness out of that state and help to collect relevant evidence.
To conclude, there are vast opportunities for collaboration between law enforcement and public health professionals. The lack of communication between them leads to adverse outcomes in terms of preserving the well-being of the public. Therefore, additional efforts are needed to increased the interprofessional teamwork to boost the well-being of the public and develop strategies to eliminate community challenges that arise on a daily basis.
Greenberg, S., & Frattaroli, S. (2017). What police officers want public health professionals to know. Injury Prevention, 24(3), 178-179.