Hospital Relations with Police

January 22, 2021 | Health System Risk Management


The term "police" as used in this article includes law enforcement officers who may be municipal or state police officers, sheriffs, deputies, constables, marshals, and other law enforcement personnel as defined in state or federal law. Law enforcement personnel also include agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG), the drug diversion unit of the state in which the facility is located, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) (Gravely).

Local police are frequent visitors to hospitals. They accompany victims of accidents or crime to the ED for treatment or evidence collection, and bring in individuals under their custody for drug or alcohol testing. Police also respond to calls for assistance regarding criminal activity on hospital premises, supervise incarcerated inpatients, and serve warrants on visitors, patients, or staff.

Hospitals lacking an effective procedure to manage behavioral health crises sometimes call police to assist with disturbances involving "disruptive" patients. Police intervention in some cases has resulted in tragic outcomes.

In 2014, in the aftermath of a tragic outcome, the police department of Baltimore, Maryland, issued a moratorium on its policy of automatically responding to hospital calls for assistance. The change was announced after the unexpected death of an unarmed patient on whom a city police officer used an electroshock weapon (Taser) when responding to a call for help with a "combative patient." "What is it when we arrive that you want us to do?" asked the police commissioner during a radio interview following the event. In a statement explaining the policy change, the police department said that its officers "should not be put into a position of enforcement action without a clear violation of existing law or threat to human life." During the moratorium, police response to "other kinds" of emergency calls from hospitals would be "based on police supervisory review" (Fenton).

To relieve burden on local police, some states authorize hospitals to form their own police departments. Such authorized police are trained, armed, and permitted to make arrests on hospital premises (Holliday).

Nearly all hospitals have a security department responsible for maintaining safety and security on facility premises, but some hospitals also have their own police departments, with duties and responsibilities separate and different from their security departments. Smaller hospitals and hospitals in rural areas may have hybrid security and law enforcement...

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