EDMONTON — A new study from the University of Alberta suggests the way in which police interact with homeless people can have a potentially negative long-term impact.
The study, published in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, found that homeless people who had been arrested or handcuffed, and who did not feel respected while that was happening, formed negative attitudes toward police that lasted for at least two years.
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The study authors talked to more than 200 people over a period of eight months, representing about 10 per cent of Edmonton’s homeless population. Nearly half of them had interacted with a police officer within the previous month.
Not all of the interactions were negative: forty per cent felt police treated them with respect.
“Many of them had very, very positive outcomes, which was great,” said Peter Silverstone, a professor in the department of psychiatry. “They remembered that interaction positively, even if they were arrested or handcuffed.”
The study’s authors suggest police should be given more flexibility in when to use handcuffs while making an arrest, though Sgt. Maurice Brodeur, president of the Edmonton Police Association, said officers sometimes have no other choice. “If they’re handcuffed, then it keeps them stable, and there may not be an impending fight where both parties get hurt.”
The key, said the study, is ensuring the process is done respectfully.
“There was one interaction where an individual was handcuffed and he felt the police did an amazing job,” said lead author Yasmeen Krameddine.
“He was willing to go with them because they treated him with the respect.”
The study authors said it’s important for homeless people to interact positively with police, as part of the long-term goal to get them off the street.
As Silverstone puts it, “it’s very much in society’s and police’s interest that everybody, even those who interact very frequently and are very marginalized in other ways, feel positively about people who can actually help them.”