Wednesday, December 24, 2008

ER Docs Feel the Police Use Excessive Force

To me, this story should be filed under the category of "There's less to this than meets the eye". Apparently a survey of emergency medicine physicians demonstrated their almost universal opinion that the police engage in excessive force.

While this result is interesting, it may lead to conclusions that, while appearing important and plausible, are not really informative. I can easily imagine this data being used to support the position of "criminal rights" activists appalled at low performance levels of the police and high levels of police brutality.

The opinions of ER docs would certainly be expected to carry great weight in discussions regarding health care as they should. However, the question of excessive use of force is most assuredly not a health care issue rather, it falls under the purview of criminal justice.

I don't recall a single course in either medical school or residency that addressed the issue of appropriate use of force by law enforcement. Guess what. It's not part of the medical education curriculum (93.7% even admitted not receiving such training). I don't care if every ER doc does feel this way. The fact is, such physicians are in no more of a position to assess appropriate force usage than are social workers or New York Times reporters. It's OK to have an opinion and maybe such testimony might be relevant in specific cases (more as witnesses to a possible crime) but they weren't there and cannot possibly have much insight to the actual events leading to a suspect's observed injuries.

In fact, the police have an extraordinarily difficult job dealing with some very dangerous people on a day-to-day basis.

Medical personnel do receive coursework regarding child, spousal, and elder abuse which does tend to qualify many of them to assess such cases. However, this is mainly to learn whether or not physical trauma actually occurred. In caring for an injured criminal suspect, there is little or no question that their condition is the result of violence. The question is whether such violence was justifiable and this is not something physicians having no knowledge of the events leading to it are in a position to assess.

The researchers apparently concluded that their results:
"suggest that national emergency medicine organizations in the USA should become involved, jointly developing and advocating for guidelines to manage this complex issue."
A nice inference but saying so doesn't make it true...or even logical.

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