PODCAST: Police Violence Through A Public Health Lens

The recent disturbing and unjust killings of unarmed people of color by police officers and the police killings that followed have shaken the United States and brought the issue of police violence and use of force to the forefront of national conversation once again. While this issue tends to fade in and out of the national media spotlight, it is the largely unaddressed daily reality of individuals and communities throughout the country.

Research continues to demonstrate that exposure and the threat of exposure to all forms of violence, including police violence, must be understood as a health issue due to the direct and indirect negative consequences it has on health outcomes. While the health sector continues to define its role in addressing and preventing violence, numerous organizations, health practitioners, and researchers are leading significant efforts to change policy and practice and institute health-based violence prevention strategies.

The death of Mario Woods, 26, who was shot and killed by San Francisco police on December 2, 2015, spurred large protests that forced the Police Commission and Department to explore extensive reforms in policy and practice for the use of force. In the letter from the Police Commission to Mayor Lee, the Commission specifically included a section on the public health response to violence. In this section they state, “The Commission received a letter from a coalition of public health advocates to urge the City to consider a more robust wrap-around effort to address all acts of violence, in recognition that if we do not intervene early to address the impacts of the violence in our communities, they have lasting effects, in particular on children and young people.” The letter calls on the Mayor to convene a taskforce of public health and violence prevention organizations and agencies to expand health-based efforts.

Dr. Rhea Boyd, a pediatrician and public health advocate in the Bay Area, played a significant role in developing those suggestions and has been instrumental in framing police violence within a public health lens by addressing what she calls “adverse police exposures,” which is not limited to police use of force. She has also been shining a spotlight on the issues of racial inequities that result from disproportionate exposure experienced by people of color.  The following podcast episode features an interview with Dr. Rhea Boyd, focusing on adverse police exposures, the health implications of these exposures, needed policy changes, and the growing role that physicians and public health professionals can have on the issue.

In addition to being a pediatrician and public health advocate in the Bay Area, Dr. Boyd is an active member of the regional American Academy of Pediatrics Advocacy Chapter, a member of an Academic Pediatric Association (APA) national taskforce charged with creating national curriculum for medical students and trainees about the effects of child poverty on child health, and the leader of a Bay Area taskforce on Policing Violence and Public Health. This taskforce, made up of public health officials, funders, and community partners, continues to address the impact of harmful police practices and policies. Dr. Boyd, who is also the author of the blog “Rhea.MD,” received her medical degree from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 2010 and completed a pediatric residency at UCSF in 2013.

Special thanks to Michael Fu, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania and a student at Stanford University School of Medicine, for assisting with the development of this project, conducting this interview, and continuing to contribute to making this podcast a reality.

Part I

Part II

Part III


For additional information, listeners can explore the following linked resources:

Police, Equity, and Child Health

Rhea W. Boyd, MD, Angela M. Ellison, MD, Ivan B. Horn, MD, MPH (Pediatrics, March 2016)

Police Killings and Police Deaths Are Public Health Data and Can Be Counted

Nancy Krieger, PhD, Jarvis T. Chen, ScD, Pamela D. Waterman, MPH, Mathew V. Kiang MPH, Justin Feldman, MPH

(PLoS Medicine, December 2015)

Aggressive Policing and the Mental Health of Young Urban Men

Amanda Geller, PhD, Jeffery Fagan, PhD, Tom Tyler, PhD, Bruce G. Link, PhD (American Journal of Public Health, December 2014)

Press Release: Mayor Lee Announces Comprehensive Police Department Reforms

City & County of San Francisco, Office of the Mayor, February 2016

San Francisco Will Have U.S. Review Police Tactics

Timothy Williams (The New York Times, February 2016)