Changing policing for communities: Law enforcement and public health as an emerging field of practices, concepts and research - PhDData

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Changing policing for communities: Law enforcement and public health as an emerging field of practices, concepts and research

The thesis was published by van Dijk, Auke Johannes, in October 2022, VU University Amsterdam.


There is growing academic and societal attention being paid to police interventions that are unrelated to their traditional ‘core business’ of fighting crime and maintaining public order. As we know from the literature, much police work has nothing to do with crime at all but relates to solving all sorts of human problems and caring for vulnerable people. Many of these activities are in accordance with the – more or less implicit – function of policing in the public health domain. Public health can be broadly defined as ‘the science and art of promoting and protecting health and well-being, preventing ill-health and prolonging life among populations through the organised and informed efforts of society’. The role of the police in public health is increasingly acknowledged and seems to be growing at the same time. Issues at the intersection of policing and public health are the subject of the emerging field of Law Enforcement and Public Health (LEHP). The core of this doctoral thesis is the meaning and possible impact of LEPH on police work from a policing perspective. Specifically, the focus is on the development of policing in the context of communities, where policing engages in many tasks, ‘including responding to the range of problems that citizens approach the police with in search of aid and solutions’. An important dimension of LEPH is the observation that large amounts of police time are spent on issues having an important (public) health component. Research questions of this doctoral thesis are: 1) What characterises the intersection of law enforcement and public health (LEPH) as an emerging field of practices, concepts and research? 2) What is the actual and potential impact of LEPH on (the future of) policing? The LEPH agenda is global in nature and sees the so-called Global South (low- and middle-income countries) as crucial to include. However, this doctoral thesis is for the most part restricted to developed Western democracies, mainly concentrating on the UK and the Netherlands, with the USA as both a contrast and a source of thinking on policing. The introductory chapter sets the stage for the main body of the doctoral thesis. Chapters 2 to 6 consist of academic articles, which mirror police-academic cross-fertilisations, the building of an interdisciplinary field of research, the effects of the LEPH agenda on practitioners, and critical reflections on the role of police in matters of public and mental health. The chapters address the following issues. Chapter 2 (van Dijk and Crofts, 2017) is titled ‘Law enforcement and public health as an emerging field’ and is published in Policing and Society. Chapter 3 (van Dijk, Hoogewoning and Punch, 2018) is titled ‘Running on empty. Reinvigorating policing through ‘what matters’’ and is published in Cahiers Politie-studies. Chapter 4 (van Dijk, Herrington, Crofts, Breunig, Burris, Sullivan, Middleton, Sherman and Thomson, 2019) is titled ‘Law enforcement and public health: recognition and enhancement of joined-up solutions’ and is published in The Lancet. Chapter 5 (van Dijk, Zoeteman and Fassaert, 2020) is titled ‘Nursing and policing as boundary-spanning professions: from crisis management towards community outcomes in mental health’ and is published in the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing. Chapter 6 (van Dijk, Shearing and Cordner, 2022) is titled ‘Policing the pandemic: public health, law enforcement, and the use of force’ and is published in the Journal of Community Safety & Well-Being. On the basis of these chapters, conclusions are drawn in the final chapter regarding the two initial research questions. More work needs to be done on defining the crucial dimensions of LEPH worldwide.

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