10 Years of Hospital Data: Fights With Cops Are More Injurious Than Civilian-Only Ones

February 4, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Riot police carrying wooden bats
Photo credit: kris krüg/flickr (CC by SA 2.0)

The people who were hospitalized due to law enforcement were also more likely to have a mental illness.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health sifted through 10 years of Illinois hospitalization data to unearth the trends found in violent encounters with cops versus civilian-only clashes.

The findings are pretty grim — the people hospitalized after an encounter with law enforcement are more likely to have mental illness, longer needed periods of hospitalization, more injuries to the back and spine, and a greater need for extended care than those who are hospitalized following clashes with other civilians.

After reviewing the medical records of all patients admitted to Illinois hospitals or emergency rooms between 2000 and 2009, the scientists identified 836 people who were sent to the hospital following an injury from law enforcement. Next, they compared those records to 836 other patients of the same age and sex who were treated in the hospitals during the same period of time — but for physical altercations with other civilians instead of cops.

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The researchers broke the data down into numbers: people injured by cops had 27 percent longer hospital stays, and twice as many back and spine injuries. They were nearly 2.5 times more likely to need extended care after being discharged from the hospital.

According to senior author Lee Friedman, associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, it’s particularly disturbing to find so many back and spine injuries because this indicates that “the person was already on the ground face-down or turned away from the officer when they occurred.”

Equally as disturbing, the researchers noted that only 10 percent of the people injured by law enforcement were sent to jail after being discharged — indicating that the cops used excessive force in the situations.

"While we didn't have information on any associated excessive-use-of-force claims by patients, the fact that these people weren't arrested or taken into custody after being discharged — in combination with the severity of the clinical features — indicates that many of the patient injuries resulted from excessive force," Friedman said.

"But it is important to distinguish between excessive force and unjustified force, since excessive force can be mitigated by providing law enforcement personnel with the tools and training that minimize both lethality and severity of injury," he added.

Additionally, the researchers found that almost 40 percent of the people injured by cops had psychiatric conditions that can impair judgment, like schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse disorders — a disturbing statistic.

It was also noted that a disproportionate number of people with pre-existing paralytic disorders were among the group of patients injured by a law enforcement agent.

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"These are people who would be unable to physically comply with police officer commands to lay on the ground or put their hands up or defend themselves when force is used," Friedman said.

Friedman says that it’s difficult to research the issue of excessive force by police officers since there aren’t any policies that require this information to be publicly accessible. In contrast, publicly accessible repositories exist to mandate reporting of child or elderly abuse.

"This kind of data should be compiled, analyzed and publicly distributed on an annual basis in an effort to identify ways to reduce injuries — as is done in Australia,” argues Friedman.

As many controversial cases throughout the past year have exemplified, there’s a dire need to implement policy change in order to take on the issue of police brutality and use of excessive force.

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