Governing through care: A qualitative assessment of team play between police and nurses for people with mental illness

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The nexus between law enforcement and public health represents a new and emerging policy field. Yet, most scholarly work has been devoted to police attitudes and interventions involving people affected by mental illness. This paper draws attention to a law enforcement – public health partnership in Amsterdam, the capital city of the Netherlands. We present a qualitative study based on interviews and some observations. Three major themes emerged from our fieldwork that involved policy makers, community police officers, and district nurses: how these officers and nurses perceive the problem of disorderly and confused people, how they work together in practice, and how they relate to a wider network of many other players. We argue that community police officers and district nurses have developed a kind of informal ‘team play’ consisting of three steps: receiving and analysing a signal, undertaking action, and providing aftercare. These steps offer a preventative approach aimed at avoiding and forestalling crisis situations. Difficulties arise in terms of tracing so-called ‘care avoiders’ (people who do not present a ‘readiness for treatment’), hampered information exchange, and the governance of partners beyond our respondents' own organisations. In particular, we argue that today's society is not only governed through crime, but also through care. There is no such thing as a robust ‘punitive complex’ in which policing and criminal justice logics prevail. Rather, we witness a multi-agency network of police, public health, mental health, youth care housing associations and other nodal actors, each with their own bureaucratic logics and working methods tending to clash with, or even undermine, informal team play on the streets.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101532
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Law and Psychiatry
Issue numberJanuary–February
Early online date10 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • Law enforcement
  • Mental illness
  • Public health
  • Street-level professionals


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