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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

US ER Doctors Reveal They Know Police Use Excessive Force

A new report in the January 2009 edition of the Emergency Medicine Journal may contain evidence that the epidemic of police brutality in the US is very real. That report reveals that 99.8% of US Emergency Physicians believe that the police use excessive force when detaining suspects.

How are they so sure of this? The report goes on to say that 97.8% of those doctors surveyed have personally treated people that they suspect have been subjected to excessive force and nearly two-thirds of those have treated two or more victims of excessive force.

The problem, revealed in the report, is that doctors don't know what to do with that information, even though nearly half wish they did have procedures in place to report incidents where they suspect excessive force had been used by the police. This only adds to the problem as it allows those cases of misconduct to go unnoticed and even when reported by the victim, it means that doctors aren't interviewed as a means to corroborate reports of brutality.

The survey, performed primarily by Dr. Jared Strote of the University of Washington in Seattle, goes on to state that about 71% of physicians have not reported cases where they suspected excessive force and the reason for that is that nearly 97% of departments don't have any procedures in place to report such cases.

The most common forms of excessive force reported were blunt trauma caused by closed fist and foot strikes, followed by overly tightened handcuffs which have been known to cause permanent neurological damage.

However, one point to keep in mind with this report is that it only offers a glimpse of the problems with excessive force used by police officers. It does not take into account that many victims of police violence may never make it to an emergency room, instead many are taken straight to jail and some of those may never receive any medical treatment for their injuries at all.

As said before, police brutality in the US is a systemic problem and not just an issue of a few bad apples. Unfortunately the system works against victims of police misconduct and offers few chances to help those who could testify on their behalf and help stop this problem.

With reports like this, though, that finally offer a glimpse into the extent of the problem when law enforcement agencies refuse to gather any real statistics on cases of abuse, we might have some hope to convince the public that this is a real problem and that it can affect anyone, innocent and guilty alike, and thus must be addressed.

2 comments:

Brian said...

A recent article was published on your site stating Dr's feel Cops are using excessive force too much. I have some concerns with this study:

Did the dr's making this claim know all the facts and circumstances that led up to the use of force?

Does the medical staff understand the Case law set by the US Supreme court (Graham v. Connor)?

Did the docs draw their conclusion based only on the injuries and not considering the totality of the circumstances?

How many docs get mad when you go to the Doctor with a "Self-diagnosed" condition? They tell you that you are not the medical doc - and leave it to them to examine and diagnose. They are "Self-Diagnosing" law enforcement officers actions.

This quote is great (from the survey):
A large majority (96.5 percent) reported that they had no departmental policies on reporting their suspicions or they did not know of a policy to guide their actions, and 93.7 percent said they had received no education or training in dealing with these situations.

- - WHAT THEY DON'T SAY IS... that 99.9 percent of them probably have no training (or very little) on determining the cause of these injuries. A bruise is a bruise is a bruise.. sometimes shape and differentiation in color can indicate a blunt or pointed object causing it, but they won't know if it's a baton strike, flashlight, or they tripped and fell.

Many times the officer bringing the suspect to the ER is not the officer that used the force. The officer bringing them in is clean with no bumps and bruises. The other officer most likely has bumps and bruisers and may have went to another hosp. for treatment.

I know many, many times the ER staff has called for lasw enforcement due to a very combative patient. Hardly ever have the dr's ever told the cops HOW to do their job when they arrive. Why are the Dr's complainining about excessive force when they were not in the fight, under the stress at the point in time the cops were? ? ? ?

The Supreme Court states that the Judge and Jury can not consider what actions the officer SHOULD HAVE taking after the fact. Why are the Dr's doing this?

Packratt said...

Well, that's certainly an interesting take on the study... of course, you missed the point entirely.

It seems to me that establishing avenues and set policies for ER physicians to report when a violent arrest has taken place along with precise details about the types of injuries sustained will allow police departments to be aware of incidences where the injuries sustained don't match a use of force report.

So it seems that your reaction, and that of many cops posting in their own message boards about this study, seem way over-dramatic and even paranoid. It's not like this report is any official inquest that will result in officers facing discipline, so why cite case law in response to it? That's just plain absurd and seems to be an overly defensive response.

It's not like this study is advocating that physicians have the power to arrest police officers they suspect may have used excessive force nor is it giving them any power to issue discipline or take an active role in the disciplinary process. They wouldn't be judging you, but providing their expertise in determining the nature of injuries a suspect sustained.

Of course, to put it another way...

You, as a cop, are not trained to make a medical diagnosis, so why should anyone accept your word that someone you arrested didn't sustain any injuries and the nature of any injuries sustained?

We shouldn't. That's why this study recommends allowing doctors to have the ability to report what they see, nothing more, nothing less.

 
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