One Hat that Police Officers Should Not Wear

A video of the aftermath of a Philadelphia police shooting (follow the link to see it) surfaced last week that has caused some controversy. The Philadelphia news reported this about the taped police incident:
PHILADELPHIA - A video posted on YouTube leads to an internal investigation of two Philadelphia police officers.

The video shows the moments just after police shot a man who turned a gun on them in West Philadelphia on Jan. 20.

Investigators say 35-year-old Marcus Henderson, a career criminal with 15 prior arrests, pointed a gun at police on foot pursuit, reported Fox 29's Dave Schratwieser.

The tape shows the wounded suspect lying on the ground, handcuffed. A few feet away, the officers are engaged in a heated argument.

Witnesses tell Fox 29 News the officers were arguing because one of the officers didn't want to put the wounded suspect in his patrol car and take him to the hospital.

"Our job is to make sure that he does get to the hospital as quick as possible, but our job is safety first, also," says Fraternal Order of Police President John McNesby.

The tape goes on for a minute. A female sergeant, a supervisor, is attempting to get a highway patrol officer to follow her commands regarding the wounded suspect.

On the officers arguing, all I can say is that the tension during and after the use of deadly force is extremely high. As a result, it is not uncommon for officers to yell at each other at the scene. To make matters worse, the Philadelphia Police Department has faced an inordinate amount of recent tragedies--losing 6 officers to in-line-of-duty deaths in the last ten months.

I was surprised to learn that the officer and supervisor are from the same department, and expect something like this to occur more frequently when multiple agencies are involved in an incident. Without knowing all the facts in this case, I would expect an officer who behaved in a similar fashion (with that being all the details), by disregarding the order of a supervisor, to receive a hefty suspension as agency administrators reinforce the chain of command structure in policing.

One aspect about the incident that surprised me was that the officers were reportedly going to transport the victim to the hospital instead of trying to treat the man until an ambulance arrived. Certinly there are times when transporting has to be done, and this may have been an example. In contrast, one poster on stated that Philadelphia PD's policy implies that officers should regularly transport victims to a medical facility to ensure that treatment is provided without "delay."

I am still trying to determine if that is Philly PD's policy. If so, I would not advocate that the police regularly transport injured persons to the hospital. First, most officers are not trained as emergency medical technicians and should not be moving shooting or other victims. Persons needing medical treatment (especially shooting victims) need to be stabilized to limit internal bleeding and other problems so that when moved, their injuries do not become worse.

Second, officers with limited medical training involved in removing a victim from a scene, tossing them in the back of a patrol car, and then plopping them on a bed at the local hospital, represents activity with a high level of liability. I would think that the city would be under enormous scrutiny during civil trials regarding this practice--an additional layer of liability added to the job of a police officer which is already litigious job.

In sum, policies instructing officers to transport injured persons should describe this activity as exceptional rather than the norm. If no ambulance will be available for an hour, then officers should transport a victim. If a scene is unsafe for medical personnel, officers should drive the victim to a secured area so that EMTs can then treat and transport an injured person.

Having police officers wear the hats of ambulance personnel is asking them to perform actions that, in general, they are not trained to do. It places unnecessary liability on the department, is dangerous for the injured person, and can simply result in a recipe for disaster.


MeadowLark said...

What a tragic situation for all involved.

MsPsycho said...

Nice Blog.

Slamdunk said...

Thanks for the comments ML and MP.