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Tips for dealing with incidents and suspects in hospitals

Submitted by PoliceOne Staff

There can be a temptation to let your guard down in a hospital emergency room, but if you bring a suspect in for treatment and find yourself falling prey to relaxed tactical thinking, keep these things in mind:

Availability and accessibility of weapons
The next time you’re in an ER, look around closely. What you should notice are loads of readily available things that can be used as improvised weapons; scalpels, needles, glass containers, potentially caustic liquids, IV poles and other skewering implements, etc. To the trained eye, the list can go on and on. And sometimes, these potential weapons are wheeled right up to a suspect’s beside on a tray! Don’t think that just because a “patient” is unarmed when you bring him in he’ll stay that way.

Make sure doctors and nurses aren’t the only ones monitoring your “patient.”

It’s probably safe to say that most hospital personnel aren’t thoroughly (if at all) trained in weapons awareness, threat assessment, subject control, defensive tactics, etc. Even if they are, their primary focus, understandably, is going to be on medical issues not security. If you leave the responsibility of monitoring the demeanor of a suspect and watching for body language and verbal cues that can serve as pre-attack indicators, you’re putting yourself and others at risk. Don’t assume that hospital personnel will know if someone is about to blow. Be sure you’re watching closely for signs that things are about to get combative.

Along those lines, remain cognizant of timing as well. In the early stages of a hospital visit a suspect may be relaxed and cooperative. He’s being cared for, people are paying attention to him and the atmosphere may seem more helpful and friendly than threatening to him. That may change, however, when he realizes that he’s getting closer to being discharged and cleared for transfer to jail, where things won’t seem so friendly. As the hospital stay comes closer to an end, watch for increasing suspect anxiety and signs that calm cooperation might be shift to combativeness.

Keep an eye on who’s coming and going
If you’re dealing with a gang member—particularly one who’s been targeted by rival gang members—don’t think that the battle is over just because you’re in the hospital. Gang members determined to kill an enemy may stop at nothing to reach their goal. Keep an eye out for those who might follow you to the hospital “finish the job.”

Security trumps sympathy
Just because an injured suspect may appear harmless, vulnerable and maybe even completely helpless doesn’t mean that he is. If you find yourself tempted to skip taking appropriate security measures—like cuffing—in the interest of being nice, don’t. Remember the lessons learned by those officers who lost their lives after deciding to loosen cuffs, cuff in the front and even remove cuffs from their transports in the interest of comfort and kindness. Never let your guard down. Never.

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