ER doctor survey on police excessive force: "Ouch!"
My wife is prone to go ballistic about surveys that study ear wax in mice, the percentage of buffalo that break their ankles while cross-country skiing, and the like. “They actually spend money researching this stuff?” she says. “And what exactly is it that they learn that might be useful?”
Well, it’s a good thing I didn’t tell her about the recently published study that found a high percentage of emergency room doctors believe they see patients who are victims of “excessive force” by the police with some degree of frequency. You can see the report of the study, which was published in January 2009 in the Emergency Medical Journal, a copy of which is available here.
The really strange part of the study is the result that states, “Of the respondents, 97.8% [of the 315 doctors who responded to the survey]...replied that they had managed cases that they suspected or that the patient stated had involved excessive use of force by law enforcement officers.”
I wrote to one of the authors of the study in an attempt to get a copy of the survey questions, and hopefully to start an interaction with them. I was particularly interested in getting some unpublished numbers from the survey. that show how many times the doctors suspected excessive force only because the patient stated it had occurred, versus the doctors’ own estimate of the situation. But I didn’t get a reply. The issue just cries out for more detail.
Just picture the situation in the emergency room: A guy is being examined. Doctor asks, “What happened?” Guy responds, “The police messed me up for no reason.” Well, that’s one number for the survey! Never mind that the doctor has no basis whatsoever to assess the street situation.
I happen to know several emergency room doctors, and none of them are quite that naïve.
I wrote to one long-time acquaintance who is a very prominent emergency room supervisor in a major Southern California hospital. He wrote back and called the article “bogus” and stated, “I plan to write a letter to the editor to voice my concerns (outrage) over this article. It should have never been published, since it is so biased.
Here are two quotes from the article, along with my comments (in bold and italics):
A January article in USA Today features more reaction from the policing world. It is in your interest — as well as your professional duty and the law — to use force in a reasonable manner. Force must be used to control resistance and violence occasionally, and the results are not always pretty. I think most emergency room doctors (indeed, even the vast majority of the population in general) understand that. Which makes the survey results a real head-scratcher.
One of the points of the survey article is that doctors lack protocols to report excessive force when they suspect it. I humbly suggest they do what the rest of the supposedly civilized world does in that situation: drop a dime on police supervision.
It’s just not that hard to do.
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