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51,000 Per Year Injured By Law Enforcement: Study

Amid continuing concerns and media attention focused on problems with police brutality nationwide, new research suggests that an estimated 51,000 individuals are treated at emergency rooms each year for injuries that occur as a result of police officer encounters. 

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), on April 19, researchers analyzed data on the number of emergency room visits associated with law enforcement actions, investigating not only fatalities, but also much more prevalent situations that result in injuries requiring medical treatment.

Researchers collected data from the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification, including external cause-of-injury codes identifying injuries owing to contact with law enforcement and data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Nationwide Inpatient Sample.

Lead author and physician at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Medicine, Dr. Elinore J. Kaufman, indicates that between 2003 and 2011, there were 715,118 nonfatal injuries, 3,958 hospitalizations, and 3,156 deaths among individuals who had police officer encounters.

According to information collected from the Vital Statistics Morality Census, researchers found 55,400 fatal and nonfatal injuries occurred in 2012 alone as a result of police encounters.

With more specific information available, the team of researchers began to analyze data collected by the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample from 2006 through 2012. The sample indicated more than 255,600 emergency room visits related to police injuries during this period. To understand the demographic and reasoning behind the events, research investigated the demographics and reported health status of patients involved in the encounters.

The study found that the overwhelming majority, 86%, of individuals were men, and the average age of the patient visiting the emergency room was 32 years. Kaufman stated in the report that the age median age group was “slightly older than expected, indicating this phenomenon is not limited to youth”.

The data collected from emergency room visits found that one in five individual’s injured during an altercation with law enforcement across the country were diagnosed with a mental disorder, and 16% were reportedly intoxicated or under the influence of some sort of drug.

Kaufman states that these statistics may be lower than reality, given the lack of patient evaluation of drug or alcohol influence, and only focusing on the injury at hand.

More than two-thirds of the injuries occurred from law enforcement agencies in the South and the West, while the Northeast only contributed toward 17% of the total injured population. This could be attributed to policy differences among the regions of the United States, regarding baton and taser use.

Researchers found the severity and degree of injuries varied, with nearly 97% of the emergency room visits accounting for minor to mild injuries that would include scrapes, bruising, contusions, small lacerations or minor bone breaks and fractures, while 3% involved cutting or stabbing and less than 4% were caused by gunshots.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) statistics indicate that there are many officers injured during these altercations. The FBI recorded in 2013 that 9.3 out of every 100 sworn officers were injured during the line of duty. FBI statistics also indicated the most common time for police assaults occur between 12:01 a.m. and 2:00 a.m., when most bars close.

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