Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 92, Issue 2, pp 338–351 | Cite as

Examining the Spatial Distribution of Law Enforcement Encounters among People Who Inject Drugs after Implementation of Mexico’s Drug Policy Reform

  • Tommi L. GainesEmail author
  • Leo Beletsky
  • Jaime Arredondo
  • Daniel Werb
  • Gudelia Rangel
  • Alicia Vera
  • Kimberly Brouwer


In 2009, Mexico decriminalized the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use in order to refocus law enforcement resources on drug dealers and traffickers. This study examines the spatial distribution of law enforcement encounters reported by people who inject drugs (PWID) in Tijuana, Mexico to identify concentrated areas of policing activity after implementation of the new drug policy. Mapping the physical location of law enforcement encounters provided by PWID (n = 461) recruited through targeted sampling, we identified hotspots of extra-judicial encounters (e.g., physical/sexual abuse, syringe confiscation, and money extortion by law enforcement) and routine authorized encounters (e.g., being arrested or stopped but not arrested) using point density maps and the Getis-Ord Gi* statistic calculated at the neighborhood-level. Approximately half of the participants encountered law enforcement more than once in a calendar year and nearly one third of these encounters did not result in arrest but involved harassment or abuse by law enforcement. Statistically significant hotspots of law enforcement encounters were identified in a limited number of neighborhoods located in areas with known drug markets. At the local-level, law enforcement activities continue to target drug users despite a national drug policy that emphasizes drug treatment diversion rather than punitive enforcement. There is a need for law enforcement training and improved monitoring of policing tactics to better align policing with public health goals.


Injection drug use Law enforcement Spatial Hotspot analysis 



This research was supported by NIDA grants K01DA034523, R37 DA019829, R01DA028692; the Canadian Institutes of Health and Research; the Trudeau Foundation; and the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number D43TW008633.


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Copyright information

© The New York Academy of Medicine 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tommi L. Gaines
    • 1
    Email author
  • Leo Beletsky
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jaime Arredondo
    • 1
  • Daniel Werb
    • 1
    • 3
  • Gudelia Rangel
    • 1
  • Alicia Vera
    • 1
  • Kimberly Brouwer
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Global Public Health, School of MedicineUniversity of California at San DiegoLa JollaUSA
  2. 2.Northeastern University School of Law and Bouvé College of Health SciencesBostonUSA
  3. 3.BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDSVancouverCanada

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