Policing and Population Health: Past, Present, and Future

Centennial Issue Population Health

Policy Points:

  • A growing body of research suggests that policing, as a form of state-sanctioned racial violence, operates as a social determinant of population health and racial or ethnic health disparities.
  • A lack of compulsory, comprehensive data on interactions with police has greatly limited our ability to calculate the true prevalence and nature of police violence.
  • While innovative unofficial data sources have been able to fill these data gaps, compulsory and comprehensive data reporting on interactions with police, as well as considerable investments in research on policing and health, are required to further our understanding of this public health issue.

Emerging scholarship has situated policing as an undeniable social determinant of health and wellbeing in the United States. Still, progress in understanding the precise role that law enforcement plays in the production of population health has been slowed by significant, long-standing data limitations. While considerable gains have been made – often via the efforts of non-state actors and organizations – in developing data systems monitoring the health harms of law enforcement, our ability to describe the varied pathways through which policing systems function as a social determinant of health remains difficult due to the lack of national, comprehensive, publicly available data. In this paper, we describe this persistent issue in detail, highlighting past gains and continuing data issues, before turning our attention to possible solutions.

Open Access

Lee H, Larimore S, Esposito M. Policing and Population Health: Past, Present, and Future. Milbank Q. 2023;101(S1): 119-152.