Your browser is unsupported

We recommend using the latest version of IE11, Edge, Chrome, Firefox or Safari.

Research details risk factors for injuries in police interactions

A police officer pulls over a driver on the side of a highway.

The introduction of police body cameras has heightened public debate on use of force by police officers.  What video may not reveal, however, is why police officers resorted to forceful methods.

While government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Justice have documented the volume of people threatened with or experiencing the use of force by police, specific risk factors leading to use of force and injuries are not detailed by the data.  Likewise, national data has reflected outcomes from interactions with police, not the broader set of law enforcement personnel (such as correctional officers).

Research from UIC School of Public Health scholars seeks to build data on risk factors for injuries and fatalities in civilian interactions with law enforcement in the State of Illinois.  The publication “Risk factors associated with legal interventions,” in the Injury Epidemiology journal, describes groups at risk for injury and the clinical features of injuries suffered following a legal intervention.

The researchers’ key takeaway:  despite the fact that the circumstances, rational and intent to harm by an assailant in general assaults differs substantially from those of law enforcement personnel, the severity of injuries suffered by patients in both groups are nearly identical, notwithstanding law enforcement training to minimize harm.

“Understanding the risk factors associated with law enforcement involved injuries can help with creating strategies, policies and code of conduct when interacting with police,” said Alfreda Holloway-Beth, PhD, research assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the UIC School of Public Health and director of epidemiology at the Cook County Department of Public Health.

Researchers conducted a retrospective registry-based study using the Illinois trauma registry and Illinois hospital discharge data sets compiled by the Illinois Hospital Association through billing records.  The population at risk was calculated using data from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Police Public Contact Surveys.  Finally, the injury data was compared to injuries caused by assaults in general.

Access data for civilian injuries in law enforcement encounters in Illinois Heading link

The study identified 836 patients injured through legal interventions from 2000 to 2009, about 84 per year.  Civilians injured in legal interventions were more likely to be male than in general assaults (91 percent versus 85.5 percent) and were generally older – nearly half were over the age of 35, compared with about one-third injured in general assaults.

Legal intervention patients were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mental condition than the comparison group, particularly a diagnosis of alcoholism, drug abuse/dependency, depression and schizophrenia.  Civilians with paralytic syndromes were also disproportionately injured in legal interventions.

About three-fourths of legal intervention injuries were caused by unarmed blows, firearms or striking with a blunt object.  Legal intervention patients between the ages of 15 and 24 were the most likely to be injured by a firearm.  Among children 15 and younger, half of injuries were caused by manhandling or a blow from an officer.  This is consistent with the most commonly reported methods of force used by law enforcement – grabbing, tackling, pushing/shoving, striking and control holds.

Hospitalizations and deaths in hospitals increased over the ten-year sample period.  The incidence rate of injuries among civilians in contact with law enforcement ranged from 233 to 489 per 100,000 state residents.  The most common injury types were fractures, open wounds and internal injuries.  Compared with those injured in general assaults, civilians injured in interactions with law enforcement were more likely to suffer injuries to the spine and back, but less likely to experience head and neck injuries.  Finally, law enforcement-related injuries resulted in longer lengths of hospitalizations but shorter stays when injuries were caused by blunt or thrown objects and firearms.

“A surveillance system that captures the burden of injuries caused by use of force is needed to ensure that policies, laws, and intervention programming are effective in reducing injuries, driving down associated healthcare cost, and that health equity is being addressed in Black and Brown communities,” Holloway-Beth said.