Patients’ complaints of excessive use of force (EUOF) by police occur frequently in emergency departments (EDs). Limited, if any, education or guidelines exist for documenting alleged EUOF despite extensive instruction for other forms of potential abuse or assault. Our objective was to examine the documentation by ED staff when patients complained of EUOF.
A retrospective cohort design was used, identifying every use of force over a 1-year period by a single law enforcement agency that was followed by an ED visit within 24 hours. Charts were then analyzed for complaints of excessive force. For these cases, documentation was evaluated using standards for other forms of abuse and assault.
Of 187 ED visits, 32 (17%) involved patients who were unable to give a history and 20 (11%) had nontrauma evaluations only. Of the remaining 135, there were 13 documented complaints (10%) of EUOF. Of these, 8 complaints (62%) described the mechanism of injury completely and 10 complaints (77%) had a complete description of the injury. No charts discussed whether the examination was consistent with the history. Inappropriate subjective terminology was used in 7 charts (54%), and the police description of events was described as fact in 7 charts (54%). Guilt was assigned in 5 charts (39%).
In one ED, EUOF complaints were not documented to the standards for other forms of alleged assault and abuse. There may be a benefit to further education and guidelines on how to deal with ED presentations of EUOF.