Several years ago while working as a patrol officer on the overnight shift, I was dispatched as a back-up unit on a prowler call in a residential area. The complainant wanted us to check on a man who was seen near one of the homeowner’s bedroom windows. When I arrived, sure enough, there was our suspect staggering beside the home’s fence.
The primary officer had already stopped the subject and was performing a protective frisk. The man was 6 foot 3 or taller and stocky—strong like someone who works daily with his hands rather than muscular from lifting weights. He was middle aged, and wore glasses.
After the officer finished his protective search of the subject and found nothing dangerous, it was clear that this individual must be intoxicated. His speech was slurred, he was unsteady on his feet, had watery eyes, and seemed disoriented. Working midnights in an urban area, this was a typical call. The homeowner had never seen the subject before and simply wanted him removed from the property.
From conversation, the other officer believed the man was staying at a hotel nearby, and since the guy was being cooperative, decided to provide a taxi service for him—making sure that this subject got to as safe place and was not a problem for us again during the shift. My colleague told me that he could handle it from here, and I checked back into service not giving the mundane incident a second thought.
I was immediately given another call, a traffic collision, and started in that direction. As I spoke to the drivers involved in the collision and began my report, I heard my colleague call for a supervisor and an ambulance over at the hotel that he had taken our prowler. Someone at the hotel was being rushed to the hospital.
Later in the shift, I spoke with my colleague about what had happened. He told me that the subject began becoming more disoriented upon their arrival and the hotel staff could find no record of him being a patron there. The officer also very observantly noted that the subject had an odd fruity smell to his breath.
Concerned for the man’s safety and remembering a training class on diabetic comas, the officer realized that this man’s problems were not related to substance abuse and that the subject needed immediate medical attention. Fortunately, the subject was successfully treated for diabetic coma at a local hospital.
I’ll always remember that call as “yeah, yeah, another boring drunk call” that was in reality a life or death matter. I knew little about diabetic comas, and after my shift decided I needed to do some homework.
In 2008, Two El Reno (OK) police officers were placed in a much more difficult situation when a subject, suffering from a similar condition, was involved in a traffic collision. The man was unresponsive to verbal commands by the officers and the incident progressed into a use of force situation:
Fortunately, everyone was all right after this altercation, but as the commentator notes, officers are faced with many non-textbook cases that require immediate decisions—-some even involving diabetic comas.
The video also reminded me of how close we were to an unfortunate confrontation that night with our disoriented man. In my incident, the prowler was much bigger than both of us officers, and a physical confrontation would have likely been ugly.
As an officer, being prepared mentally and physically to fight off the challenges of subjects who want to inflict harm on you and/or others is essential. In contrast, the need to absorb medical information pertaining to issues such as diabetic comas should not be underestimated. Being able to handle the combative criminal, as well as the unexpected--the person in need of medical attention--is what the public expects from police officers.