BALTIMORE (WJZ)—Emergency response. Baltimore City’s police commissioner is making a big change to how officers handle emergency calls from hospitals. He says supervisors will now decide whether to send officers, and that has raised concern.
Investigative reporter Mike Hellgren reports a tasering death at Good Samaritan Hospital is behind the change.
Baltimore City Police are making a sweeping change to the way they respond to hospitals after the death of 19-year-old George Von King.
Officers were called to MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital on May 7 when police say King, who was initially taken to the hospital for a reaction to medication given following a dental procedure, became combative with staff and an officer used a stun gun. The teen was breathing when officers left and police say the department learned later that he fell into a coma and died.
King had also been given anti-psychotic medication and a sedative.
The commissioner spoke on the Marc Steiner Show.
“I’ve put a moratorium on us responding to hospitals or mental locations before sergeants evaluate why we’re being called into those situations,” said Commissioner Anthony Batts, Baltimore City Police.
Some say the new policy could delay police response. The head of the Maryland Hospital Association says hospitals should be treated no differently than any other place, and police should respond promptly in emergencies.
In 2010, a man upset over his mother’s diagnosis shot a doctor at Johns Hopkins.
While the police response drew accolades, it showed how every second is precious.
Now, after what unfolded at Good Samaritan, supervisors will have to evaluate first.
“What is it exactly that you want the police officers to do when you’re struggling with a patient that’s in a hospital,” Batts said.
There have been incidents involving Tasers and hospitals nationwide–one resulted in a man’s death in Utah last year. In Indiana, an off-duty officer tased a patient strapped to a hospital bed three times.
Pennsylvania’s health department condemned their use in hospitals.
“We’re safe. We’re effective, and we’re accountable,” said Steve Tuttle, vice president of Taser International. “This is the most studied tool on an officer’s belt.”
The commissioner agrees. While changing his policy regarding hospital response, he said he plans to put a Taser in the hands of every uniformed officer.
“They’ve reduced force use against residents. They’ve reduced injuries to residents. They’ve reduced injuries to police officers,” said Batts.
Hospitals pose special risks to the use of Tasers because there are highly flammable chemicals in the buildings.
The commissioner says police are in the process of revamping use-of-force policies.
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