Injuries sustained during contact with law enforcement: An analysis from US trauma centers

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Abstract

BACKGROUND

Injuries sustained by civilians from interaction with police are a polarizing contemporary sociopolitical issue. Few comprehensive studies have been published using national hospital-based data. The aim of this study was to examine the epidemiology of these injuries to better understand this mechanism of injury.

METHODS

Patients entered into the National Trauma Data Bank (NTDB) (January 2007 to December 2012) with E-codes E970.0 to E976.0 (International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification), identifying injuries associated with law enforcement in the course of legal action, were enrolled. Patients' demographics, injury characteristics, procedures, and outcomes were collected and analyzed. Patients injured by other civilians (E960.0–E968.0) were used for comparison.

RESULTS

Of 4,146,428 patients in the NTDB, 7,203 (0.17%) were injured during interaction with police. The numbers of patients in consecutive study years were 858, 1,103, 1,148, 1,274, 1,316, and 1,504. The incidence of these injuries was stable over time (0.17–0.18%) (p = 0.129). Patients had a median age of 31 years (range, 0–108), and 94.3% were male. Median injury severity score was 9 (interquartile range [IQR], 4–17). The most common mechanism of injury was gunshot wound (44%).

RESULTS

Patients were white, 43%; black, 30%; Hispanic, 17%; Asian, 1%; and Other, 9%. As a proportion of the total race-specific NTDB trauma population, there was an average of 1.13 white patients, 2.71 Hispanic patients, and 3.83 black patients per 1,000. Mechanism, injury severity score, and outcomes did not vary by race. Compared to patients injured by civilians, patients injured by police are more likely to be white (43% vs 25%, p < 0.001) and injured by gunshot wounds (44% vs 32%, p < 0.001).

CONCLUSIONS

Based on data from trauma centers across the United States, the rate of injuries sustained during interactions with police has been stable over time. Gunshot wounds are the most common mechanism of injury. Proportionally, black patients are the most frequently injured race. When compared to patients injured by civilians, however, patients injured by police are more likely to be white. This study provides a step toward a better understanding of police-associated injuries.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE

Prognostic/epidemiologic study, level III.

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