Challenges, Skepticism, and Recommendations from Police about Working in Collaboration with Supervised Consumption Services [2020]

Background: The operation of supervised consumption services (SCS), programs that offer supervised locations for the consumption of drugs such as heroin, other opioids, cocaine, other stimulants, and other drugs, is contingent on cooperative relationships with police. In this manuscript, we focus on an under studied topic: how active duty police officers understand their role with respect to SCS, and their recommendations for improving relationships with these programs. Methods: During 2018, we audio-recorded and transcribed focus group discussions conducted in four police divisions with 26 police constables and 3 officers of other ranks in Toronto, Canada. Officers were asked about their roles relative to SCS, perceived training needs, and how to build cooperative relationships with SCS. We followed an iterative thematic approach to analyze the data. Results: Participants in three divisions were unclear about their roles, duties, and policy governing policing of SCS. Participants in the fourth division had received instructions from the division commander to observe a “distance and discretion policy”. However, these participants believed that developing familiarity with the new SCS, instead of keeping a distance, would be a more effective approach to building working relationships with staff, clients, and the local community. There was nearly unanimous skepticism about the willingness of SCS workers to work cooperatively with the police. These perceptions were commonly linked to previous negative experiences with harm reduction workers and, in some cases, staff at the new SCS. Several participants also linked problems in communication to fundamental differences between the philosophies or worldviews of SCS staff versus those of police. Conclusions: Building collaborative SIS-police relationships can be assisted by demystifying the operation of SCS for police, articulating policies, and working toward mutual respect.

Carol Strike, Tara Marie Watson, Jason Altenberg, Lorraine Barnaby, Ahmed M. Bayoumi, Laurel Challacombe, Geoff Demel, Shaun Hopkins & Amy Wright
Substance Use & Misuse, Volume 55, 2020 – Issue 12