International Development Law Organization

Policing and HIV: The Role of Police Services in Improving Health

The role of the police in helping combat HIV is emerging as a key issue in public health. Several international consultations are scheduled for 2012 to drive for cultural change within law enforcement bodies in HIV prevention.

The first such consultation was held at the Headquarters of the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) in Rome on 10-11 May 2012. 

Welcoming experts to the meeting, IDLO Director-General, Irene Khan, said: “The international community has long identified that a rights-based approach, and an enabling legal environment, are essential to the response to the HIV epidemic.”

“The law is particularly important in HIV prevention because in all countries behaviours that transmit HIV are regulated by the law: sexual relations and injecting drug use.”

The two-day meeting, organized for IDLO by David Patterson, Head of Social Development Programs, analyzed the characteristics of drug policing and effective policing for most at risk populations.

Police abuses can drive people away from HIV prevention measures such as outreach services for condom distribution. Alternatively, the police can play a positive role, by referring those arrested on drug charges to rehabilitation services. Police discretion not to prosecute is vital to the operation of life-saving needle and syringe programs. 

In many countries, the success of HIV prevention strategies depend on police services wholeheartedly embracing harm reduction approaches. 

The consultations are aimed at preparing a draft report on effective policing among populations most at risk of HIV. The report will cover definitions, principles and operational guidelines, useful for the development of country tailored standard operating procedures. 

Participants discussed operational guidelines, including police cultures and practices, essential ingredients to change packages and processes, and the role and importance of training. The consultation will be followed by the First International Conference on Law Enforcement and Public Health, to be held in Melbourne, 11-14 November 2012.

Prof Nick Crofts of the University of Melbourne, Australia chaired the meeting. 

The consultation meeting was organized by the International Development Law Organization (IDLO), in partnership with the Law Enforcement and HIV Network (LEAHN), and Forum Droghe. The meeting was sponsored by the Open Society Foundations, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the International Drug Policy Consortium.