Law professors agree that police officers don’t appear to provide medical aid
Facing criticism for failing to provide quick first aid to the victim of last month’s police shooting, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department says it is pursuing changes that could bring faster medical help.
But professors who study law enforcement say that what happened after the shooting points to a broader problem: Most police officers in Charlotte and other cities aren’t trained to provide the kind of medical help often required after shootings.
After CMPD Officer Wende Kerl shot Danquirs Franklin last month, another officer used his radio to call in: “We got one shot up here. I’m gonna need Medic now.”
Twice more over the next minute, Officer Larry Deal requested Medic, according to March 25 CMPD communications audio obtained by the Observer.
An 11-plus-minute video of the shooting, released Wednesday, does not show any CMPD officers giving first aid to Franklin. An emergency worker from the Charlotte Fire Department is first seen about four minutes after the shooting. He appears to bend down to give Franklin aid.
In answers to questions from the Observer, a police spokesman said that Deal checked Franklin’s pulse and that another officer started to administer first aid when the Charlotte Fire Department emergency worker intervened.
CMPD radio traffic indicates Franklin was in an ambulance, being driven to the hospital approximately nine minutes after the shooting, the Observer has reported.
At a news conference Wednesday, CMPD Chief Kerr Putney acknowledged that watching such videos is “disheartening.”
“It appears that but for training, we could have rendered more aid,” Putney said. “And I can tell you the specific video of Mr. Franklin is a good example.”
Putney said his leaders are talking with officials at the Charlotte Fire Department about stationing emergency medical workers a few blocks away from scenes when they get calls about armed suspects.
“They’re closer so they can render aid if someone is injured,” Putney said.
Deal’s calls for emergency medical workers appear to follow CMPD’s written policy that officers must summon medical assistance “whenever deadly force is used against a subject and the subject is injured or the subject requests medical aid.”
Department policy also requires an officer to take “any appropriate measure they are trained and certified to take” to provide medical aid to a person when an officer shoots a suspect. That policy, though, does not explicitly require police officers to apply pressure or bandages to gunshot wounds, or to perform CPR.
All CMPD officers are trained in the use of CPR, a technique that is used to restart hearts and restore breathing. But medical experts say that CPR can often make things worse for gunshot victims. Franklin was breathing, so CPR was not necessary, police spokesman Rob Tufano told the Observer.
Police often lack medical training
Two professors who study law enforcement told the Observer that treating gunshot wounds typically requires more medical training than most police officers have.
CMPD has about 1,800 sworn officers. All are required to get CPR training. But only about 100 to 150 of them have a higher level of medical training, Putney said.
“When you spread that over 13 divisions, it’s either hit or miss,” Putney said. “We’ve got to be better than that.”
Both officer Kerl and Deal had received the basic first aid training, including how to perform CPR, use a defibrillator and apply a tourniquet, according to Tufano.
“There is no information to indicate that either officer had any additional first aid training,” Tufano wrote in an email to the Observer.
Asked whether the police department planned to increase the number of officers who receive first-aid training beyond CPR, Tufano wrote that the chief has discussed “revisiting training and identifying other opportunities to serve the community more effectively.”
Police officers are often the first emergency workers to arrive at scenes where medical help is required.
Kenneth Williams, a professor at South Texas College of Law, said that he has learned through recent research that most police departments nationally don’t require their officers to receive advanced medical training.
Equipping officers with better training and medical supplies could help save lives, Williams and others say.
But, Williams says, officers should not attempt to provide advanced medical care if they are not properly trained. Doing so, he said, could cause more harm than good and create “a real liability issue,” he said.
“It probably is better, if officers don’t have sufficient training, not to do anything,” Williams said.
Franklin goes minutes without aid
Seth Stoughton, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who previously worked as a police officer, said he doesn’t think basic medical care for gunshot victims would require much training.
“It doesn’t take a lot of sophisticated medical training to know you should put a pad and pressure on a gunshot wound,” he said.
Stoughton said he would also like to see police officers carry first-aid kits with key supplies for helping gunshot victims: trauma bandages, rubber gloves and a chemical coagulant often used on battlefields to staunch bleeding.
On Tuesday, a Mecklenburg County judge ordered the release of the body camera video of the moments before and after Kerl shot Franklin.
Stoughton and Williams both watched the 11-minute video, and both said they were struck by the apparent lack of quick medical aid to Franklin.
Stoughton noted that officers in the video “start talking about securing witnesses without paying much attention to the subject who is lying on the ground bleeding.”
“Witnesses are important but they’re not as important as saving a person’s life,” Stoughton said.
About four minutes went by before the first emergency medical personnel arrived, Stoughton noted.
“That’s a really long time for a critically injured gunshot victim to be on the ground without any assistance at all,” he said.
Staff writer Fred Clasen-Kelly contributed.