January 7, 2009

ER docs suspect excessive police force

Nearly 98 percent of U.S. emergency room doctors believe some patients were injured due to suspected excessive police force, a national survey indicates.

But most incidents go unreported because no laws require doctors to notify authorities of possible police brutality, the survey finds.

The survey of 315 physicians, included in the Emergency Medicine Journal's January issue and based on 2002 data, is believed to be the first doctors' account of suspected police beatings, said lead author H. Range Hutson, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Harvard University.

The responses were based on interactions with patients who were brought in by police or who said officers caused their injuries, USA Today reported.

Ninety-five percent of the doctors reported injuries caused by fists and feet, the survey said.

National police groups challenged the results, saying it's hard for doctors to know if injuries resulted from excessive force if they did not witness the encounters, the newspaper said.

Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation's largest police union, told the newspaper emergency room doctors have no way of knowing what amount of force was required in police encounters with suspects.

Doctors are not required to report cases of suspected excessive police force, in contrast to cases of suspected domestic violence, elderly abuse and child abuse, which doctors must report to authorities, Hutson said.