In certain contexts, Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) can be involved in substance use prevention activities in schools. Despite the relative high frequency of the involvement of LEOs in substance use prevention strategies, their work can be better guided by stronger scientific evidence supporting the effective role they might potentially play in guaranteeing a health and safe development for youth at schools.
While the UNODC/WHO International Standards on Drug Use Prevention (the Prevention Standards) reflects the value of safe, nurturing and supportive social institutions around the lives of youth to benefit from the prevention of risky behaviour as well as brings together the scientific evidence on what works and what does not work in prevention, the document meant to give guidance on how to think about prevention and evidence, i.e. it does not echo any particular evidence on the effectiveness of law enforcement-led prevention practices in substance use prevention including in school settings.
Likewise, the UNODC/UNESCO/WHO Guiding Document on Good Policy and Practice for Education Sector Responses to the Use of Alcohol, Tobacco and Drugs, does not outline a specific role of LEOs in substance use prevention. Education sector responses to the use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs; Good policy and practice in health education; Vol.:10; 2017 (unodc.org)
Nevertheless, a common framework addressed between the Prevention Standards and the guiding document is the value and importance of building individual resilience while supporting the ecological and social layers surrounding the lives of the individual to avail a nurturing and safe environment.
In their role, LEO officers could potentially play a positive layer of safety once equipped with the science of prevention. This background and the active engagement of LEO in some countries in prevention begged for the value for development of a guiding document to better support the effectiveness of their responses.
Accordingly, the UNODC with the support of the United States Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs embarked on the development of a guiding document to further strengthen the role of LEO when implicated in the substance use prevention responses in the school settings. This process included the consolidation of scientific evidence from the Prevention Standards and experts in substance use prevention as well as practical expertise from LEO practitioners. The UNODC engaged with the experts in the science of prevention as well as with nominated experts and practitioners from member states to consolidate the experiences in what works and what does not in preventing substance use within school settings in the context of law enforcement. The defined experts and practitioners met in a hybrid meeting at the UNODC headquarters in Vienna to put their final touches and give their consensus on an advanced draft of the guiding document, which will eventually be released early 2023 alongside a training material booklet for the purpose of building the capacities of LEO in how to think about the science of prevention of substance use within school settings.
Experts emphasized on the science of policing and prevention and how to use them to enhance the role of LEO in substance use prevention among youth within school settings. “There is clear overlap between science of prevention and law enforcement. Both are implicated in the health and safety of individuals.”, says Dr. Zili Sloboda (President of the Applied Prevention Science International - APSI), highlighting the importance of LEO through prevention science to strengthen their role in drug use prevention within school settings. On the effectiveness of law enforcement prevention programmes, Dr. Zila Sanchez (Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the Preventive Medicine Department of Universidade Federal de São Paulo) commented that “We have some strategies implemented in schools that are not validated or tested. There are also strategies being implemented that are proven to be ineffective. Here we need to use science of prevention to guide and help choose effective manualized programs for LEO”, which summarizes the importance of the guiding document in confining pre-existing law enforcement prevention work to evidence-based programmes. Dr. Gregor Burkhart (Principal Scientific Analyst at the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction – EMCDDA) in turn commented that the presence of police officers around the school is essential to protect children from the exposure to drugs whether through drug dealers or drug-selling points (alcohol and tobacco), hence undertaking an environmental approach to prevention is at the core of policing.
To fill the underlying gaps, the Prevention Team at the PTRS Section of the UNODC ensures setting the International Standards of Drug Use Prevention as the main compass for all prevention works worldwide as well as equipping member states with evidence-based programmes that promote substance use prevention, such as family and parenting skills programmes.
In the context of law enforcement, the UNODC is developing the guiding document to help support a change of culture on how to make use of science of prevention for the betterment of health and safety development of youth. This provides not only guidance to the officers, but also methodological and research recommendations to acquire evidence on the effectiveness of pre-existing programmes and change the paradigm of thinking when engaged in such responses.
The guidance document as well as related training package is expected to be ready by the first quarter of 2023.
For a brief overview of the process, please refer to the below:
For further information, please get in touch with Wadih Maalouf (email@example.com), Ziad El-Khatib (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Ali Yassine (email@example.com)