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Addressing law enforcement violence as a public health issue

This resource is available in English only.

Physical and psychological violence perpetuated by law enforcement authorities is an ongoing public health issue. In this document, the American Public Health Association (APHA) states that law enforcement policies and practices are often misused and disregard solutions to peace that are based on community-identified needs. The consequence of these strategies is that they further embed existing health inequities experienced due to racism and socioeconomic disadvantage.

Policy statement regarding police violence

This policy statement positions physical and psychological law enforcement violence against communities of colour as a public health equity issue. It features a robust literature review that describes the historical and systemic roots of police violence against socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. This includes policies that facilitate discriminatory policing and upholding hierarchies based on race and social class by targeting low-income communities of colour.

The research APHA draws on suggests that both the short- and long-term impacts of psychological and physical violence by law enforcement negatively affect the ability of people and communities of colour to achieve basic rights of housing, education, economic opportunities and access to services, as well as increased risk of death and chronic disease. Poor accountability for race-based violence by law enforcement is described as being reinforced by a lack of oversight and policies that enable structural racism to disproportionately target and use force with people of colour.

Actions for public health

The document offers ten actions that can be taken by federal, regional, local and other health authorities.

Key areas for public health action include the following:

  • Advocating for the elimination of police practices that target people of colour
  • Advocating for accountability measures for inappropriate treatment of Black and other racialized citizens and communities by law enforcement
  • Acting on racism as a contributor to health inequities
  • Working with law enforcement to address the social determinants of health at the root of inequities among racialized communities

For public health practitioners looking to learn more about law enforcement violence as a health equity issue, the statement’s expansive reference list is a useful source for future research.

Use this resource to:

  • facilitate a discussion between local, regional and provincial/territorial law enforcement agencies about collaborative work to address the impact of racism and police violence as a determinant of health equity for racialized communities;
  • identify areas for public health advocacy at the federal, provincial/territorial and municipal levels to support community-based and community-identified programs that reduce the impact of violence on the health of racialized communities; and
  • develop a plan for intersectoral initiatives including public health and law enforcement that address racism, stigma and discrimination against racialized communities.


American Public Health Association. (2018). Addressing Law Enforcement Violence as a Public Health Issue (Policy Number: 201811). Washington, DC: American Public Health Association.

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Tags: Healthy public policy, Racism/racialization, Participate in policy development, Public Health Association, Journal Article