The Effects of Policing on Certain Student Populations

Campus security, campus police and local police are a part of the complement of services and programs that can help to support students in crisis. In many cases, they can be of assistance in situations where students may be at imminent risk of harm. However, not all student populations have positive relationships with police and police-related services. Many groups, and possibly the individual that you are supporting, have had historically antagonistic relationships with policing services that have led to negative outcomes. These histories need to be considered during a crisis situation, particularly when you are supporting students through the process of getting connected to appropriate resources. Community crisis responses are beginning to shift from being police-centric towards models more focused on mobile crisis units. One such example is the mobile crisis response pilot taking place in Toronto, Ontario.

Policeman IllustrationThe power differentials that exist in the relationship between students and campus security or policing authorities are also important to note. Given their enforcement role on campus, campus security and police hold powers that students do not. Consequently, this power dynamic can come into play when these two groups interact. Depending on the situation, campus security/campus police may be empowered to make decisions for the student, whether or not the student agrees with these decisions. Such decisions can include things like apprehending a student using handcuffs and physically removing them from campus. These power differentials, along with prior experiences, can make students wary of seeking help from these sources.

Another element that can make students wary of seeing or accepting help from these resources is their perceived understanding of the power that campus security/police hold within post-secondary institutions. Students may incorrectly believe that campus security/police have the ability to single- handedly expel them from campus, or that they carry potentially lethal weapons when responding to calls. Conversations and consultations with students confirm these misunderstandings and indicate that they are a factor that make students wary of seeking supports from these resources (University of Toronto – The Review of the Role of Campus Safety Services in Student Mental Health Crises Review Panel, 2021).

It is not only interpersonal interactions between police and students that are important to acknowledge. There is a systemic aspect to this relationship as well. Laws created by the government, as well as stories in the media, have amplified the negative tropes about particular populations and their relationships to crime (Maynard, 2017). These laws have allowed for significant discretion at the hands of police services with regards to which groups of people they choose to surveil. The communities that are subject to increased surveillance have higher odds of interacting with the police, thereby increasing their odds of experiencing negative encounters. They also have increased likelihood of being charged and sentenced with crimes, as well as a higher risk of being incarcerated (Maynard, 2017). Examples of these laws include the Indian Acts prohibition of alcohol purchases and consumption by First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people (which was only repealed in 1985), the opium laws enacted in 1908 to target Chinese labourers working on the Canadian Pacific Railway, and the police practice of carding which disproportionately affects Black communities (Maynard, 2017).

The negative stereotypes that have shaped the creation of laws and their enforcement have been thoroughly disproven through research. Research has also highlighted the overrepresentation of particular groups in the justice system. Some examples include the following.

  • Links have previously been drawn between immigrant and migrant populations and crime, particularly as it relates to youth. However, research from Public Safety Canada has shown that youth born outside of Canada have lower rates of “delinquent behaviour” than youth born in Canada (Public Safety Canada, 2012).
    • It is also important to note the growing number of international students on our campuses and their relationships with police. Many students may come from countries where police hold different powers than they do here. Therefore, they may have different interpretations of police officers and their roles.
  • Although Indigenous people make up about 5% of the Canadian population, they are almost 25% of the population of incarcerated people in Canada (Sapers, 2015).

The intersection of identity, mental health and police encounters have also led to violence on occasion. Research has shown that minorities, particularly racialized ones, are overrepresented in incidents where police use deadly force. People living with mental health issues are also at an increased risk of experiencing deadly force during police encounters (Gillis, 2015; Chan and Chun, 2014). Several examples of these cases exist. Below are a few that you may want to read more about.

  • Regis Korchinski-Paquet
    Regis was a 29-year-old woman living with mental health issues. Her family called for help because of a physical altercation occurring in their home. During her interaction with police, Regis was killed.
  • Ejaz Chourdry
    Ejaz was a 62-year-old man who lived with schizophrenia. His daughter called the police for a wellness check as he had not taken his medication. During his encounter with police, he was killed.
  • Guy Ritchie
    Guy was a 30-year-old man who lived with mental health issues. He was on his way to a pharmacy when he had an interaction with the police. It was during this interaction that he was killed.

The effects of these negative interactions not only harm the people involved, but they reverberate back out into their communities as well. Research conducted by the American Psychological Association has shown that profiling by the police can cause PTSD and other disorders associated with stress (Ontario Human Rights Commission in Maynard, 2017).

Societies as a whole are moving away from police being central to the mental health crisis response model. Many have highlighted that trained mental health and crisis personnel are able to handle crisis situations in which there is no imminent threat of violence. This way of thinking has led to a movement towards using mobile crisis response teams to respond to mental health crises. Post-secondary institutions can learn from the valuable work being done in the community in order to adapt this new model of mental health crisis response to their campuses.

Reflection • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

It is important to consider a student’s context and experiences when supporting them in connecting to resources during a crisis situation. Think about how taking a trauma-informed approach to the situation can help you to better support students and enable them to connect with the appropriate resource for them.

Trauma-informed care is both an intervention and organizational approach. It focuses on how trauma might affect a person and their response to support service from prevention through treatment. Key elements of this approach include understanding how prevalent trauma is, recognizing how trauma can affect people and using this knowledge to shape your interactions with a person. We can act on this knowledge by working collaboratively with students on their care through a strengths-based, skill- building approach.

Guide: PDF Version