Tag Archives: police

Preventable Fatalities In Law Enforcement

Today’s big headlines involve the recognition (finally) that law enforcement officers have risky jobs. But not just in the ways you might think. Sure, they frequently deal with criminals who have ill intent or deadly weapons. But some of the risks they face can be mitigated by simple actions.

Here are some factoids:

  • 42% of police officers killed in auto crashes were not wearing seat belts
  • Overall seat belt compliance among law enforcement officers is about 50%, whereas the general public’s compliance is 86%
  • 36% of officers killed are not wearing body armor

Unfortunately, a culture has developed among law enforcement (and prehospital / EMS professionals) that seat belts are not necessary (for them). The sad truth is that these professionals are at much higher risk for injury, especially in car crashes, because they must drive faster and in more stressful situations on a regular basis. And police officers (especially in the US) are more and more often confronted with firearms.

Why on earth would they not want this simple protection? Body armor is hot, unwieldy and uncomfortable, especially in warm weather climates. And police officers complain that seat belts complicate getting out of their vehicles, and can get snagged on their utility belts and uniforms.

A number of major police departments and police unions are now pushing for mandatory requirements for seat belts and body armor use at all times. There is now broad recognition that using these devices may cut fatalities in half. Agencies are beginning to check body armor at roll call, and random checks are sometimes performed on the streets by inspectors.

Unfortunately, we need to recognize this problem in EMS as well. And the culture there needs to change, so that protecting the trauma professionals becomes as important as helping the patients that they treat.

Related post:

Reference: Characteristics of Law Enforcement Officers’ Fatalities in Motor Vehicle Crashes. US Dept of Transportation – National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, publication DOT HS 811 411.

Extreme Seat Belt Fail:

Distracted Driving In Police Officers

A lot has been written about the hazards of distracted driving. Here is some information about the impact of distraction on police officers! A public safety administration class at St. Mary’s University here in Minnesota analyzed 378 crashes involving police cars from 2006 to 2010. The results are intriguing!

Key findings included:

  • Most crashes occurred during non-emergency responses
  • Crashes occurring during emergency responses were the most expensive
  • Distracted driving caused 14% of all crashes
  • Half of distracted driving crashes were due to the use of squad car computers
  • Average insurance claim was $3,000 per crash. However, if the crash was due to distracted driving it doubled to $6,000. If the crash was due to squad car computer distraction the average cost was $10,000!

This study is interesting, but it’s only a partial snapshot of this type of crash in one state. It did not include some of the larger police departments, such as St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Bottom line: It’s safe to assume that distracted driving is just as dangerous to police (and prehospital providers, too). And with growing dependence on advanced technology for law enforcement, this problem is just going to get worse. It is imperative that everything be done to improve safety for our law enforcement colleagues. Potential solutions include training to increase awareness of distractions within the car, simulator testing of driving while using cockpit technology, and ergonomic studies to maximize field of view from within the car.

Related posts:

Seatbelt Use By Trauma Professionals

Every trauma professional knows that seat belts save lives. Numerous studies have borne out the survival benefits of wearing them. But do those same professionals practice what they preach?

A study by NHTSA study showed that at least 42% of police officers killed in car crashes were not wearing their seat belts. The number of officers killed in traffic accidents in 2010 has increased by 43% over 2009 numbers. Possible reasons may be that seat belts impede the process of getting into and out of the car quickly, and that the belt may get tangled in utility and gun belts.

What about paramedics and EMTs? I couldn’t find any studies looking at this group. However, observation tells me that medics in the patient care compartment don’t always buckle up. The reason typically given is that wearing a belt may compromise patient care by limiting access to equipment, using the radio, or performing CPR. However, I think that patient care is even more limited if the EMS professional is disabled or killed in a rig crash. The patient is much more likely to survive such a crash since they are firmly strapped into place.

How can you stay safe in the back?

  • Make a commitment to your colleagues (and family) to always belt in
  • If appropriate, try to do as much of your assessment and interventions as possible before moving
  • Organize your work area so that commonly used and critical equipment is within easy reach
  • Use a cell phone for communication if the radio mic is too far away
  • If you absolutely do need to unbelt, try to do so only when the rig is stopped at a light or stop sign.

I’m interested in your comments about how common of a problem this really is. Unfortunately, I don’t think NHTSA will be doing any studies on this one.

Distracted Driving In Police Officers

A lot has been written about the hazards of distracted driving. Now, there is new information about the impact of distraction on police officers! A public safety administration class at St. Mary’s University here in Minnesota analyzed 378 crashes involving police cars from 2006 to 2010. The results are intriguing!

Key findings included:

  • Most crashes occurred during non-emergency responses
  • Crashes occurring during emergency responses were the most expensive
  • Distracted driving caused 14% of all crashes
  • Half of distracted driving crashes were due to the use of squad car computers
  • Average insurance claim was $3,000 per crash. However, if the crash was due to distracted driving it doubled to $6,000. If the crash was due to squad car computer distraction the average cost was $10,000!

This study is interesting, but it’s only a partial snapshot of this type of crash in one state. It did not include some of the larger police departments, such as St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Bottom line: It’s safe to assume that distracted driving is just as dangerous to police (and prehospital providers, too). And with growing dependence on advanced technology for law enforcement, this problem is just going to get worse. It is imperative that everything be done to improve safety for our law enforcement colleagues. Potential solutions include training to increase awareness of distractions within the car, simulator testing of driving while using cockpit technology, and ergonomic studies to maximize field of view from within the car.

Related posts:

Trauma Patient Transport By Police, Not EMS

When I was at Penn 25 years ago, I was fascinated to see that police officers were allowed to transport penetrating trauma patients to the hospital. They had no medical training and no specific equipment. They basically tossed the patient into the back seat, drove as fast as possible to a trauma center, and dropped them off. Then they (hopefully) hosed down the inside of the squad car.

Granted, it was fast. But did it benefit the patient? The group now at Penn decided to look at this to see if there was some benefit (survival) to this practice. They retrospectively looked at 5 years of data in the mid-2000’s, thus comparing the results of police transport with reasonably state of the art EMS transport.

They found over 2100 penetrating injury transports during this time frame (!), and roughly a quarter of those (27%) were transported by police. About 71% were gunshots vs 29% stabs. They found the following interesting information:

  • The police transported more badly injured patients (ISS=14) than EMS (ISS=10)
  • About 21% of police transports died, compared to 15% for EMS
  • But when mortality was corrected for the higher ISS transported by police, it was equivalent for the two modes of transport

Although they did not show a survival benefit to this practice, there was certainly no harm done. And in busy urban environments, such a policy could offload some of the workload from busy EMS services.

Bottom line: Certainly this is not a perfect paper. But it does add more fuel to the “stay and play” vs “scoop and run” debate. It seems to lend credence to the concept that, in the field, less is better in penetrating trauma. What really saves these patients is definitive control of bleeding, which neither police nor paramedics can provide. Therefore, whoever gets the patient to the trauma center in the least time wins. And so does the patient.

Related posts:

Reference: Injury-adjusted mortality of patients transported by police following penetrating trauma. Acad Emerg Med 18(1):32-37, 2011.