People who use drugs are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system in Canada; how they come to be in contact with this system is typically through encounters with police. Understanding the nature of encounters between people who use drugs and police is vital to developing interventions and policing practices that are appropriate, fair, and promote the well-being of this community. This study quantitatively and qualitatively examines police encounters from the perspectives of youths and adults who use drugs in Victoria, British Columbia. The results show divergent predictors of police encounters and perceptions of these encounters based on age cohort. Youths were more likely to report police encounters and were more likely to perceive these encounters as negative compared with the adult cohort. Among both age groups, unstable housing was a significant predictor of reporting a recent encounter with the police. Among adults only, opioid use was a significant predictor of negative encounters. The qualitative findings show that negative perceptions were largely due to police harassment, being labelled as a person who uses drugs, and interference with drug paraphernalia. These findings also show that mutual respect and relationships built over time contribute to more positive reports of encounters. There were also many reports of positive experiences despite legal interference. These results suggest that people who use drugs belong to a group that are labelled and discriminated against, but that relationship building between people who use drugs and police can have a positive impact. These results may inform local policing practices and cultures, which can promote the health and well-being of the community.
Alissa Greer, Justin Sorge, Kimberly Sharpe, Daniel Bear, Scott Macdonald
Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, August 28, 2018