We undertook a qualitative exploration of police perspectives on injecting drug use and needle and syringe access among injecting drug users (IDUs) in a Russian city which has witnessed explosive spread of HIV associated with drug injecting. Twenty-seven in-depth qualitative interviews were conducted in May 2002 with police officers of varying rank who reported having regular contact with IDUs. All interviews were tape-recorded, transcribed, translated and coded thematically. Accounts upheld an approach to policing which emphasised high street-based visibility and close surveillance of IDUs. IDUs were depicted as ‘potential criminals’ warranting a ‘pre-emptive’ approach to the prevention of drug-related crime. Street policing was described as a means of maintaining close surveillance leading to the official registration of persons suspected or proven to be users of illicit drugs. Such registration enabled further ongoing surveillance, including through stop and search procedures. While aware of drug users' reluctance to carry injecting equipment linked to their fears of detention or arrest, accounts suggested that the confiscation of previously used injecting equipment can constitute evidence in relation to drugs possession charges and that discovery of clean injecting equipment may be sufficient to raise suspicion and/or further investigation, including through stop and search or questioning. Our findings suggest an uneasy relationship between street policing and needle and syringe access, whereby policing strategies can undermine an HIV prevention ethos promoting needle and syringe accessibility among IDUs. We conclude that facilitating partnerships between policing agencies and HIV prevention initiatives are a critical feature of creating environments conducive for risk reduction
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