Health Effects of Policing in Hospitals: a Narrative Review

J Racial Ethn Health Disparities. 2023 Apr;10(2):870-882. doi: 10.1007/s40615-022-01275-w. Epub 2022 Mar 10.


Importance: Law enforcement activity, in the form of outside agencies or hospital security forces, is increasingly common in American healthcare. Little is known about the potential effects of this prevalent, modifiable exposure on hospital staff and patient health. This narrative review characterizes existing evidence on the direct and indirect health effects of law enforcement activity in hospitals.

Observations: Law enforcement activity in hospitals can affect health outcomes through four mechanisms: (1) physical health effects related to workplace violence, restraint use, excessive force, and weapon use; (2) mental health effects involving perceptions of safety and psychological distress; (3) social effects related to the patient-provider relationship, mistrust, and bias and discrimination; and (4) legal and ethical considerations affecting overall well-being.

Conclusions and relevance: Unchecked law enforcement activity in hospitals may risk patient physical and mental health, reduce patient trust, result in bias and discrimination, and contribute to legal and ethical rights violations. Importantly, law enforcement activity in hospitals may also contribute to staff perceptions of safety. To fill knowledge gaps on the measurable impact of law enforcement activity in the hospital on staff and patients, hospitals should collect and publicly share robust data on law enforcement activity in their facilities, create and adopt patient-centered policies to ensure safety and protect patient health and privacy, and implement evidence-based interventions that safely reduce law enforcement involvement with patients.

Keywords: Black Americans; Health effects; Hospital; Law enforcement; Police; Policing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Hospitals
  • Humans
  • Law Enforcement*
  • Police*
  • Trust
  • United States