Nonfatal Injuries in Law Enforcement: Understanding & Preventing Resistance-Related Injuries

Workplace injuries are common in almost every profession, but law enforcement personnel are more frequently exposed to dangerous situations in which personal injury is likely. Lasting physical damages, mental health struggles and rehabilitation costs from these injuries can add up quickly. A recent study from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine sought to determine the causes of nonfatal, “resistance-related” injuries in law enforcement, providing recommendations on how to improve reporting and for further research into prevention.

“Resistance-related” injuries are defined as injuries sustained during officer-suspect interactions. While most nonfatal injury reporting in law enforcement is assault-focused, the researchers point out that “Injuries also result from dynamic officer-suspect interactions that can escalate into physical altercations, especially when an officer is attempting to control a suspect.”

Officer-suspect interactions are often rapidly evolving and there is a large potential for injury outside of assault. Causes of resistance-related injuries can include everything from violence and overexertion to falls and harmful substance exposure. Because we don’t have widespread data on resistance-related injuries, it can be difficult to prevent these injuries and develop strategies for greater safety in officer-suspect interactions.

What Does the Data Say?

The study analyzed data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System – Occupational Injury Supplement (NEISS-Work) compiled during hospital emergency department visits from 2012 to 2017, determining which of the reported injuries were attributed to sworn law enforcement officers. Researchers then isolated the resistance-related injuries based on the case description. Specifically, resistance-related injuries were those resulting from violence; falls, slips and trips; exposure to hazardous substances; contact with objects/equipment; and overexertion or bodily reaction.

Understanding how policy, training, officer fitness and other factors come into play in the prevention of resistance-related injuries can help law enforcement leaders take steps to reduce the instances of these injuries.

Through this compiled NEISS-Work data, the researchers determined that 53% of officer non-fatal injuries treated in emergency departments were resistance-related. This means over half of all nonfatal injuries in law enforcement officers occurred when they were chasing, detaining, arresting or pursuing suspects.

The role of subject resistance in the findings is key. The study reports that 88% of injuries attributed to violence were resistance-related, while 48% of injuries caused by falls and 31% of overexertion injuries were categorized as resistance-related.

Research Recommendations

“The examination of officers’ on-duty injuries points to important policy and training considerations,” the researchers write. As we work to reduce officer LODDs, it’s also important to work toward the reduction of nonfatal injuries – specifically where suspect resistance is involved. While officers certainly cannot control every suspect interaction, with the proper training and tools at their disposal, they may be able to reduce the potential for physical altercations and, therefore, resistance-related injuries. Not only will this improve officer safety and longevity, it can also contribute to increased safety for suspects and the community.

The researchers suggest incorporating evidence-based de-escalation training, holistic scenario-based training (rather than limiting training to tactics to counter violence or assault from a resisting suspect), and further development of tactical and decision-making skills to prevent encounters that could lead to such injuries altogether. They also noted early evidence from research into the effectiveness of sports medicine programs in enhancing officers’ physical fitness, leading to a decline in injuries from overexertion. Understanding how policy, training, officer fitness and other factors come into play in the prevention of resistance-related injuries can help law enforcement leaders take steps to reduce the instances of these injuries and the harmful long-term effects they have on personnel and the department as a whole.

Ultimately, the researchers found that an improved reporting system on the national level for nonfatal, resistance-related injuries would provide much needed insight into training and policy to help improve officer safety and level of service. With better data, leaders can develop better solutions and keep their personnel and communities safer.

Read the full paper, Resistance-Related Injuries Among Law Enforcement Officers: Addressing the Empirical Gap, to learn more.

Miriam Childs

MIRIAM CHILDS is the Marketing Coordinator at Lexipol.

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