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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Blogger Dr. Joel F. Shults said...

Thank you for saying something sensible about this research. The report is, indeed, mostly meaningless. What we have in this study is an opinion about events unseen by the respondent. Since use of force is entirely dependent on the context of the encounter, asking an uninvolved person to comment on the appropriateness of a police officer’s actions by seeing the aftermath is a recipe for irrelevance. The comparison of arrestees to domestic violence and child abuse victims is also confounded by logic. The misuse of these findings will very likely be a thorn in the side of the police profession for years to come unless the value of this study is put in proper place in the rubbish bin.

December 24, 2008 2:22 PM  
Blogger Rogue Medic said...

I feel the same way, but presented it from a different perspective in How Often Do Police Use Excessive Force?

December 25, 2008 4:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe thats why our health care system is so in the toilet. We have paople worried about a non-issue such as this and not concentrating on the real problems.
Or maybe its all those liberal docs that think EVERY person presenting at the ER needs to be seen!
This study for me smacks of the 60's. Kumbya and all that. I would like to see some of the study people work with a LEO for 8 hours and then have them make a recommendation.



December 28, 2008 2:41 AM  
Blogger Rogue Medic said...


The study appears to be a response to the Department of Justice asking for research on this topic. The discussion in the paper is quite a bit different from the selective and sensationalist reporting.

December 28, 2008 3:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wouldn't the obvious guess here be that the ER doctors are seeing a biased sample of cases--the ones where, whether rightly or wrongly, the police have hurt some accused criminal pretty badly?

If I get arrested for something without incident, no ER doctor is likely to see me brought in by the police. If I get arrested, resist arrest, and get the hell beaten out of me by some thug with a badge, the ER doctor will see me. He'll also see me if I get the hell beaten out of me because that was the only way to stop me from killing or injuring one of the policemen involved in the arrest. I'm not sure whether the ER doctor will be able to tell the difference between those two cases. But he'll never see me if I'm one of the 99%+ people who get arrested, go quietly into the police car, and calmly wait to call my lawyer or family.

December 29, 2008 9:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

American cops,criminals and public have no freakin idea what excessive violence by the police is. In the US most dirt bag criminals are provided courtesy painfully excessive than what their actions ought to beget them...

January 02, 2009 1:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are fantastic men and women wearing the badge who are able to successfully respond and resolve tense incidents their entire careers without having to resort to violence, deploy excessive force, or put anyone in the ER. However, there also are an increasing number of over enthusiastic officers who continue to get caught on camera acting and behaving badly that do not cast the force in the best light.

January 02, 2009 9:15 AM  
Blogger Sharon said...

I believe that there are only few police officers who are behaving badly but is more highlighted than the good deeds they do everyday.

Tracy, Status Now

December 29, 2009 1:10 PM  

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