Recent studies have shown that while federal and national research groups keep scads of statistics, there is no reliable national data on how many people are shot by police officers each year. Recognizing the vital role the healthcare system plays in amassing data about violent injuries, criminologist Joseph Richardson recently proposed that emergency room staff should collect information about such injuries, not just fatalities, independent from police investigations. Richardson highlights the need for such data by pointing to a 2009 survey of academic emergency physicians, which revealed that although a majority of respondents had seen cases of excessive use of force by police, the group largely failed to report such findings. Without hospital reported information, data about violent police encounters relies heavily on police gathered information, which seems to be inadequate, especially with respect to survivors of police involved shootings
Doctors and nurses attribute physicians’ failure to report excessive use of force by police to concerns about logistics and consequences, specifically, difficulties associated with putting a standardized data collection approach into practice. Richardson’s findings from interviews at Prince George’s Hospital Center revealed two major barriers to gathering such information: the presence of police anytime a victim is under arrest and the need to provide testimony in court.
Although some hospital staff report feeling an ethical responsibility to document police-involved violence, others worry that such a requirement would compromise emergency care. For example, Dr. James Augustine, an American College of Emergency Physicians board member, worries that such a requirement would “muddle” hospitals’ missions, although he recognizes that the collection of such data is feasible since trauma centers nationwide already collect and submit information to the National Trauma Data Bank.
Despite early opposition, Richardson’s proposal recognizes police violence as a public health issue and highlights the vital role emergency room healthcare providers could play in addressing it. Only time will tell whether or not emergency departments will step in and capitalize on their unique access to compile an alternative data source.