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Study Finds No Increase in ED Patients Injured by Law Enforcement

NEW YORK – News coverage might imply that the problem of people being injured or killed by law enforcement is on the increase.

A new research letter, published recently in JAMA Surgery, suggests that isn’t the case at least as measured by emergency department visits from 2006 to 2012.

Data compiled by a New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Medicine-led study team found about 51,000 ED visits per year for patients injured by law enforcement in the United States and that the number didn’t change much during the six-year period.

Researchers used the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample, a nationally representative sample of ED visits, to calculate incidence of ED visits related to injuries caused by law enforcement officers as well as to determine how much they increased over time.

Results indicate that, during the study window, 355,677 ED visits for injuries by law enforcement occurred and were about the same in each of the years. Study authors point out that about 0.3% of the injured died, representing 1,202 patients.

Those injured by law enforcement were overwhelmingly male (80%), with an average age of 32 years and a median household income less than the national average, with 81% residing in urban areas. Overall, law enforcement-induced injuries occurred less often in the Northeast and Midwest but were more frequent in the South and West, the report notes.

Gunshots and stab wounds made up fewer than 7% of the injuries, study authors point out, with most of the others related to being struck. Most injuries were minor, according to the article, and often occurred in patients with substance abuse and mental health issues.

“While public attention has surged in recent years, we found these frequencies [approximately 51,000 ED visits per year] to be stable over seven years, indicating that this has been a longer-term phenomenon,” the authors conclude, adding, “While it is impossible to classify how many of these injuries are avoidable, these data can serve as a baseline to evaluate the outcomes of national and regional efforts to reduce law enforcement-related injury.”