Law enforcement agencies across the U.S. harbor persistent records of unequal treatment, racism and violence targeting African Americans and other racial and ethnic minority groups. Recent police actions resulting in the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor illustrate that these events occur even in communities with relatively strong public health, social and civic infrastructure. These examples suggest the possibility that law enforcement is insufficiently connected to these community resources, and that public health and community organizations can help law enforcement build cultures and practices that promote health, safety and social justice by engaging in collaborative work together. To explore these possibilities, the Systems for Action Intramural Research Team use data from a nationally representative survey of more than 600 communities to examine patterns of interaction between local law enforcement, public health, and social service organizations. Using network analysis methods, they produce national estimates of the extent to which law enforcement agencies engage with public health agencies and other community organizations in activities to identify and solve community health problems and risks. They examine geographic variation in law enforcement engagement with public health, and identify demographic, economic, and social factors associated with high-engagement versus low-engagement patterns. They also link their data with secondary information on community incarceration rates and the incidence of police-involved fatalities in order to test whether higher levels of engagement between law enforcement and public health is associated with lower risk of adverse criminal justice events. The results identify potential pathways for preventing police-involved violence and promoting safe and equitable law enforcement practices using the power of multi-sector community networks.
- Glen Mays, PhD, Chair and Professor in the Department of Health Systems, Management and Policy in the Colorado School of Public Health at CU Anschutz