Police confrontations among street-involved youth in a Canadian setting

BACKGROUND: Street-level policing has been recognized as a driver of health-related harms among people who inject drugs (IDU). However, the extent of interaction between police and street-involved youth has not been well characterized. We examined the incidence and risk factors for police confrontations among street-involved youth in a Canadian setting.

METHODS: Using data derived from participants enrolled in the At-Risk Youth Study (ARYS) between 2005 and 2011, we assessed factors associated with being stopped, searched, or detained by police without arrest in the previous six months using generalized estimating equations (GEE) with logit link for binary outcomes.

RESULTS: Among 991 participants followed during the study period, 440 (44.4%) reported being stopped, searched, or detained by police for an incidence density of 49.20 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 36.42-65.01) per 100 person years. In multivariate GEE analyses, factors associated with police confrontations included: male gender (adjusted odds ratio [AOR]=1.35), homelessness (AOR=2.05), recent incarceration (AOR=1.78), daily cannabis use (AOR=1.31), daily heroin injecting (AOR=1.36), crack pipe/syringe sharing (AOR=1.61), injection drug use (AOR=1.37), public drug use (AOR=2.19), sex work involvement (AOR=1.67), and drug dealing (AOR=1.49) (all p<0.05). In total, 19.0% of participants reported that police confiscated their drug paraphernalia without arresting them. Additionally, 16.9% of individuals reported experiencing violence at the hands of police.

CONCLUSION: We found that various factors, such as homelessness and markers of more severe addiction, increased the likelihood of being confronted by police, and police confrontations were associated with markers of health-related harm among street youth. These findings highlight the need for social and structural interventions that best enable police to fulfil public safety and public order objectives without negatively influencing health behaviours of street youth.

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International Journal of Drug Policy