Nearly 98 percent of emergency room physicians believe some patients were victims of excessive force by police, says a national survey reported by USA Today. Most of the suspected incidents went unreported because no laws require physicians to alert authorities. The survey of 315 physicians, in the Emergency Medicine Journal’s January issue and based on 2002 data, is believed to be the first doctors’ account of suspected police brutality, says author H. Range Hutson of Harvard’s emergency medicine department.
The responses were based on interactions with patients who were brought in by police or who said officers caused their injuries. Ninety-five percent of the doctors reported injuries caused by fists and feet. Police groups challenged the survey, saying it would be hard for physicians to know if injuries resulted from excessive force if they did not witness the encounters. Unlike cases of domestic violence, elderly abuse and child abuse, which doctors must report to authorities, physicians are not required to notify anyone of suspected excessive force by police, Hutson says. Federal prosecutors are pursuing more cases in which law enforcement officers allegedly used excessive force. Prosecutors filed 281 cases from 2001 to 2007, up from 224 in the previous seven years.