Police use excessive force, ER docs say

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - In a survey of a random sample of U.S. emergency physicians, virtually all said they believed that law enforcement officers use excessive force to arrest and detain suspects.

The sample included 315 respondents. While 99.8 percent believed excessive force is used, almost as many (97.8 percent) reported that they had managed cases that they suspected or that the patient stated had involved excessive use of force by law enforcement officers.

Nearly two thirds (65.3 percent) estimated that they had treated two or more cases of suspected excessive use of force per year among their patients, according to a report of the survey published in the January 2009 issue of the Emergency Medicine Journal.

Dr. Jared Strote of the University of Washington, Seattle, and a multicenter team also found that emergency physicians at public teaching hospitals were roughly four times more likely to report managing cases of suspected use of excessive force than those at university or community teaching emergency departments.

Blunt trauma inflicted by fists or feet was the most common type of injury cited in cases of suspected use of excessive force, followed by “overly tight” handcuffs.

Most emergency physicians (71.2 percent) admitted that they did not report cases of suspected use of excessive force by law enforcement officers.

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.

However, most emergency physicians (69.5 percent) felt that it was within their scope of practice to refer cases of suspected use of excessive force for investigation and almost half (47.9 percent) felt that emergency physicians should be legally required to report cases of suspected use of excessive force by law enforcement officers.

These findings, Strote and colleagues conclude, “suggest that national emergency medicine organizations in the USA should become involved, jointly developing and advocating for guidelines to manage this complex issue.”

SOURCE: Emergency Medicine Journal, January 2009.

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