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Rule No. 1 for law enforcement when responding to an incident of lousy behavior is to trot out the need for more training. With an excessive-force case, officials suddenly get religion for verbal judo and sensitivity training. If only the officer had more training, he or she wouldn’t have thumped on that dude. As far as PR strategies go, it’s pretty terrific.
My cover story this week details the response and actions of D.C. Jail corrections officers after an inmate collapsed while playing basketball. The inmate was having a heart attack. The guards, well, don’t quite go by their own manual.
In this case, jail officials had long ago mandated that that officers go through basic life-saving and CPR training every year. They were being proactive! And yet, the officials would have flunked the CPR test that day and the next and the next.
But all the training in the world can’t fix an officer’s skeptical attitude toward inmates crying out for medical attention. “One of the biggest challenges for corrections and all the people involved in that, we have to guard against cynicism,” admits Cpl. John Rosser, chief shop steward for the officers’ union. “The inmates did not all come off the 19th Street Baptist Street choir. I’m going to say that 80 percent of the sick requests are simply a desire to get out of the unit and stretch their legs and get in a different environment….We must treat every incident or request as a medical emergency. But after 10 or 15 years of that you have to be a strong person.”
I asked Rosser if more training is necessary—-if the guards knew more about signs and symptoms of seizures or cardiac arrest and other medical emergencies, they could better handle the lag time before an infirmary doctor arrived. His response: Hell no.
“That would pretty much set the correctional force up for lawsuits,” Rosser explains. “Inmates in general are litigious. They will sue. We are not going to stretch our duties beyond safety and accountability.”
What Rosser fails to realize is that all the “more training” I was asking about actually comes straight from their own requirements.