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Home > Topics > EMS Advocacy
July 25, 2013
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The Legal Guardian
by David Givot

5 ways to be the boss over cops in a medical emergency

He's not drunk, he's having a stoke; use these tips to make sure the patient, not the suspect, receives proper care

By David Givot

My new client sat across from me in my office. He was more frustrated than nervous. He clearly understood the situation and why he was in it, but he was still kicking himself for letting it happen.

“It was a weekend night, like any other weekend night. There was really nothing unusual about the call,” he said calmly, and then went on to tell the rest of the story.

He and his EMT partner had been called out to the scene of a DUI stop by a police agency. When they arrived, one officer told them that they called because the guy seemed altered and they wanted the paramedic to “clear him for booking.” RED FLAG!

Knowing that “clearing for booking” was not even a legal activity, he continued with his regular assessment. Based on his objective findings, the paramedic believed the patient was not under the influence; rather, he was likely having a CVA or some other neurological problem and he directed that the patient be prepared for transport.

“You’re not transporting him. He’s just drunk!” one of the officers told him.

My client was surprised at that response. He made every effort to explain the potential seriousness of the medical situation, but the officers on scene were not having any of it.

Despite the absence of any odor of ETOH and despite the 0.00% reading on the Preliminary Alcohol Screening device, it was the officer’s untrained medical opinion that the patient’s altered mental status was the result of intoxicants and not a stroke.

To make a long story short, the argument ended when the officer told my client that the argument was over and the suspect, not patient, was going to jail, not the hospital.

He didn’t know better

Now, I know what you are thinking: why didn’t the paramedic get his supervisor involved or call the base hospital to speak with the officer or something?

The answer is as simple as it is sad. He was six months out of paramedic school and the only paramedic on scene and he just didn’t know better.

Like many others, he was trained that the most senior medic is the highest medical authority on scene, but the one with the gun is ultimately in charge. So, believing that was true, he did what he was told.

Of course, ten minutes later, when the patient lost consciousness altogether, another paramedic unit was called out and the patient was transported to the hospital, where it was confirmed that he was indeed having a stroke.

Six years later 

After a long and complicated trial, the jury agreed that my client was not at fault. Unfortunately, the State EMS Authority sees it differently and they have now launched an investigation. We are still dealing with that.

Strangely, as silly as it seems from the sidelines, this conflict is not uncommon. From coast to coast, there are stories of police interfering with medical care and even with scene safety.

Everyone has seen the video of the officer assaulting the provider in Oklahoma.

Five ways to resolve a conflict before it gets out of hand

To make a difficult situation as simple as possible, here are five things to remember if you ever find yourself in a similar predicament:

1. Don’t waste your breath

Police officers are trained to be aggressive, assertive, controlling, and correct in all situations. Going head-to-head is not a winning strategy and going toe-to-toe is not going to end well, either for the patient or for you.

Don’t waste your breath telling them how much they don’t know or why they are wrong. Instead, calmly remind them of the liability they are inviting and accepting by not allowing you to do your job. Make letting you do your job their idea.

2. Get the patient on the gurney

If you sense that a problem may arise, move the patient to the gurney as quickly as possible. Even police officers know that taking someone off of an ambulance gurney and placing them in a police car creates a bad visual.

3. Call your supervisor

This is a big one. Not only will that help relieve you of much, if not all, of the liability, it is one of the occasions for which supervisors exist.

4. Call a doctor

Contact your base hospital and have the officer speak with the nurse or doctor. While law enforcement officers are trained and practiced in taking control in their natural habitat, the street, they can be far less comfortable when an outsider steps in — particularly when that outsider is a recognized medical professional.

Furthermore, both the base hospital and you can remind them that the conversation is being recorded and that the officer’s disregard for a known or suspected medical condition is now a matter of record.

5. Stay calm

Do not let your frustration or fear spin you out of control. Your interaction should remain cool, calm, and professional. If the officer escalates or attempts to escalate, don’t fall for it. You are a professional patient care advocate and nothing shakes you.

Behind the conflict

In my experience dealing with law enforcement officers, both as a paramedic and a defense attorney, I have found that certain characteristics run like common threads through many well-intentioned cops.

Tunnel-vision may be the most common trait. That is, what they think they see is what they are sure they are seeing and any other explanation can be worked out in court.

Likewise, in my experience, many law enforcement officers tend to be more conclusory than analytical. That is, what they are trained to see, combined with have seen in the past and what they expect to see, is what they are seeing now. In this case, the officer disregarded the 0.00% alcohol reading,  overlooked the fact there were no other objective signs of intoxication and concluded that the disoriented driver was DUI and had to go to jail.

The resultant conflict, I believe, arises when their “training and experience” is challenged by a doc-in-a-box who knows nothing about law enforcement.

The very best way to avoid the conflict is to communicate.

Take the time, in advance, to build up relationships between EMS providers and law enforcement. Take the time and make the effort to work with one another to understand and plan how similar situations will be handled in the future.

Develop policies, procedures, and mechanisms that can prevent conflicts and allow everyone to manage the real task at hand: providing a better, safer community.

Finally, always remember that no single part of the system can function in a vacuum. EMS, fire, and police must work together for the community and for each other, because at some point in every career, one will need the other.

About the author

David Givot, Esq., graduated from the UCLA Center for Prehospital Care (formerly DFH) in June 1989 and spent most of the next decade working as a Paramedic responding to 911 in Glendale, CA, with the (then BLS only) fire department. By the end of 1998, he was traveling around the country working with distressed EMS agencies teaching improved field provider performance through better communication and leadership practices. David then moved into the position of director of operations for the largest ambulance provider in the Maryland. Now, back in Los Angeles, he has earned his law degree and is a practicing Defense Attorney still looking to the future of EMS. In addition to defending EMS Providers, both on the job and off, he has created TheLegalGuardian.com as a vital step toward improving the state of EMS through information and education designed to protect EMS professionals - and agencies - nationwide. David can be contacted via e-mail at david.givot@ems1.com.
Comments
The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of EMS1.com or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Larry Masek Larry Masek Thursday, May 29, 2014 8:43:52 AM Everything you said May be true cops. Are still a___ h___
Larry Masek Larry Masek Thursday, May 29, 2014 8:45:02 AM Can be a__ h___
Sam Dodson Sam Dodson Thursday, May 29, 2014 9:23:05 AM Great information. You might also want to add that you can request the Officer's supervisor to make the scene. Chances are the Officer making the determination of impairment doesn't have the experience of someone dang near dying on him. Chances are, both Responders learned something from this experience.
Joe Kalilikani Jr Joe Kalilikani Jr Thursday, May 29, 2014 9:40:10 AM You make some really great points.
Bob Bryant Bob Bryant Thursday, May 29, 2014 10:22:44 AM Despite how Larry feels, cops are just tying to do their jobs with minimal medical training. Brings back memories of when I was a Deputy and almost arrested a guy for "drunk in public." He was almost unresponsive in a car. To make a long story short, fire showed up and realized he was suffering hypoglycemia, gave him glucose and he drove himself home. Pretty basic observation now that I'm a Paramedic but I didn't have a clue back then. Those fire guys saved the Pt and my A**.
David Henderson David Henderson Thursday, May 29, 2014 1:39:49 PM having been both i understand both jobs if the cop gets in the way tell him and give him something to do to help remember neither of you are all ass , his job is to find evidence i would talk to para-meds while not on calls fine out how to help in my state para-meds can say this guy needs to go to hospital and off you go
Steve Cole Steve Cole Thursday, May 29, 2014 4:49:50 PM Doesnt always work in rural locatons when the officers supervisor, if he even has any, is an hour or more away.
Phil Reynolds Phil Reynolds Thursday, May 29, 2014 5:31:13 PM I have keyed my radio while explaining the medical issues to the officer, and included the officer's name and the phrase "and I'm advising you that this patient needs to be transported in the ambulance".
Jason Combes Jason Combes Thursday, May 29, 2014 5:53:08 PM #3 is a joke. supervisor do something? HAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHA that's funny
Frederick Hillman Frederick Hillman Thursday, May 29, 2014 8:03:20 PM I had worked for EMS services for many years and gotten to know a lot of police officer, I never ran across a case like this from the law enforcement side. Every time I had a problem like this was on border calls with other EMS personal from other cities.
Thomas Harvey Thomas Harvey Friday, May 30, 2014 7:05:14 AM This is so right. This ideal work, actually in Philadelphia where it mostly happen. Thanks a lot for the education .
Zay Pacheco Zay Pacheco Friday, May 30, 2014 7:38:09 AM this is an awesome piece. It also talks about sad facts when it comes to police and their actions and thinking. it's great!

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