MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Ted Miller, PhD
Senior Research Scientist II
Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?
Response: Police use of undue force is an enduring tinderbox issue in America. We tried to solve it by passing the 14th Amendment after the civil war, thru the civil rights movement, the riots of the 1960s, the Rodney King riot. The discussion has focused on racial disparities in per capita rates of deaths, stops, and arrests. This article digs deeper. Its aims are to use health data sets to examine nonfatal injuries inflicted during police action and apply better denominators. Looking at nonfatal injuries is especially important as shootings with firearms or tasers account for virtually all deaths but few other injuries in police encounters.
This study measures exposure as the sum of arrests plus traffic stops with search plus stops on the street. Those data come from FBI arrest reports, state arrest reports, and the 2011 Police-Public Contact Survey. Blacks have long had the highest per capita rates of stops and arrests. We believe this study is the first to assess the probability of being arrested when stopped. Those probabilities also are skewed, with police arresting 85% of Blacks and 82% of Hispanics who are stopped, well above the 71% of Whites and Native Americans and 61% of Asian-Americans. Arrest probabilities do not differ by sex or age group.
The study used a newspaper census of deaths and took injury counts from the 2012 Health Care Cost and Utilization Program nationwide samples, counting people whose injuries resulted from “legal intervention.” In 2012, US police killed or injured an estimated 55, 400 people during stops and arrests. The daily toll was 3 deaths and 150 hospital-treated injuries. In 1 in 11 US homicides and legal intervention deaths, a police officer pulled the trigger. Surprisingly, the probability that a serious injury was fatal did not vary by race. Nor did the ratio of serious and fatal injuries to stops and arrests. Teenagers and to a lesser extent young adults were less likely than people age 30 and over to die or suffer a hospital-treated injury when stopped or arrested.
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?
Response: Firearms accounted for 95% of deaths and 23% of hospital admissions. Virtually all the remaining deaths involved tasers. Most of the non-fatal injuries stemmed from blows or blunt objects. Perhaps 4,000 bites by police dogs are missing from our count because the International Classification of Diseases lacks a legal intervention code for dog bite.
Injuries during police intervention were less likely than assault injuries to be serious (hospital-admitted or fatal). This finding suggests the police were not usually out of control during physically confrontations. Conversely, gunshot wounds were significantly more likely to be lethal if they were sustained during police intervention rather than during an assault (40% vs 26%).
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: Minorities, especially Blacks, have above-average risks of being stopped and being arrested when stopped. If someone stopped or arrested, their chance of serious injury is unaffected by race. Likely ways to defuse these situations include increased community-oriented policing, better de-escalation training for police officers, and possibly publicizing hands during police stops. Racial differences in the rate of stops/arrests also may track income more than race — a question this study could not address. If they do, reducing income inequalities may be part of the solution. Recent efforts to raise the minimum wage may be a step in that direction.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Response: We need to evaluate the injury outcomes of increased community-oriented policing and an array of de-escalation trainings and simulations and disseminate the best. We need to extend this research to the state level. Emergency Department (ED) physicians need to be the public health sentinels. They are the only objective/neutral observers of the injuries caused by legal intervention — both injuries to those stopped and to police officers.
Thus, it is important to chart if a police officer inflicted the injuries and what the mechanism of injury was (e.g., blows, patient’s knife), so that information gets into the medical coding and is available for those trying to look in-depth and understand/reduce the problems that result from police use of force.
When possible, it would be helpful to know if the patient or police officer was misusing alcohol or drugs at the time of the incident. ED staff also probably are well-positioned to prospectively gather survey data about how both officers and the public are injured and during stops/arrests.
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Perils of police action: a cautionary tale from US data sets
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Inj Prev Published Online First: 25 July 2016 doi:10.1136/injuryprev-2016-042023
Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.
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