Jail Health Clinic Should Keep D.C. Police Officers Off “Hospital Detail” and on the Street

The Washington Metropolitan Police Department operated without access to a full contingent of police officers on many weekends in 2013, according to documents obtained by the News4 I-Team.

On several busy weekend nights, as many as 40 officers were pulled off the streets to instead work “hospital detail,” shuttling police inmates with minor medical complaints to hospitals and chaperoning those inmates during their hospital stays.

The agency and the city jail administrators said they’ve solved this problem by installing a health clinic inside the jail to reduce the need for hospital trips, but they acknowledge losing a large amount of manpower in 2013, potentially leading to higher crime rates, before the clinic’s installation.

The police documents reviewed by the News4 I-Team reveal “18 to 40 officers” were pulled from their scheduled posts to escort inmates to hospitals “on any given night” in 2013, most frequently on Friday nights and weekends. A memo from agency officials includes an estimate that the loss of manpower could’ve contributed to $3.5 million in losses to the city because of increased crime.

Prior to the opening of the jail health clinic, D.C. police rules required two officers to escort any inmate in the city police lockup – the central cell block at department headquarters on Indiana Avenue NW -- who requested transport to a hospital. Officers had no discretion or authority to deny inmates trips to the hospital, even if those inmates complained of minor injuries.

Police records reveal, “Abrasions or cuts account for 25 percent of the (inmates’) hospital visits.  Joint pain, toothaches, and headaches represent another 18 percent.” Police Chief Cathy Lanier, in an interview with the News4 I-Team, suggested some inmates might’ve been capitalizing on city policy requiring inmates be escorted to the hospital for all medical complaints.

“It’s probably more comfortable in a hospital bed than in the cell block,” Lanier said.

D.C. Department of Corrections Director Thomas Faust said the new clinic inside the city lockup will reduce the need for police “hospital detail” duty.  Faust said the clinic is staffed by a nurse practitioner.  

“It allows us to treat less serious medical issues,” Faust said, “right here (in the lockup).”

Faust said the clinic’s nurse will also be able to administer medications to inmates with pre-existing medical conditions.  

The clinic opened in December.  Its staff has treated at least 147 inmates since, according to records reviewed by the News4 I-Team.

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