Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform, Inc, was launched a little over three months ago. We were formed, in part, in response to the recent videos and reports of police killing unarmed people. We hope to use the platform we have been given as physicians to help bring about the lasting criminal justice reform that we believe can help prevent such tragic occurrences in the future.
While the videos of the killings that have occurred have been emotionally draining and disturbing in many ways, a recent episode has shaken our membership even further, despite the lack of video evidence. Alan Pean, a 26 year old young man, a patient at St Joseph’s Medical Center in Houston, TX, a man who was seeking care, a man who should have been under the protection of physicians, the son of a physician, the brother of a future physician, was shot in the chest by anoff-duty police officer while receiving treatment in the hospital. If there is video of the incident, it has not yet been released. But all we need to know, as physicians, as healers, has already been confirmed.
Whether in medical school, in training or in practice, I am sure we have all encountered patients, in the hospital, who may have threatened us, made us feel uncomfortable. Maybe we thought about calling security, and sometimes, maybe we did. But even if we did need the support of security, in the majority of situations, we were able to use our experience, our desire to help, our training to diffuse the situation so that we could continue to medically manage the patient – even as they were threatening us.
Like us, police officers need training to handle situations like this. This is why PfCJR hopes to partner with police departments to help them do their jobs in the best way possible, to allow them to serve and protect. In order to do that, they need the competence to turn a dangerous situation into a safe one. Courses such as Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) have been specifically developed for training officers to respond to individuals with mental illness. As described in a review article published in Best Practices in Mental Health: An International Journal, CIT training has been demonstrated to result in fewer arrests of individuals with mental illness, less use of force, more reliance on low-lethality measures when force was used and improvements in attitudes and knowledge about mental illness and is considered a best practice in law enforcement.
We believe that our police officers can do better — we believe that they want to do better. But we must demand that they use the tools that are already available — tools that are evidence-based — tools have been proven to work. We cannot continue to accept the terrible events that have been occurring.
The founders of PfCJR have signed a petition written by other concerned physicians that outlines our outrage at this incident at St Joseph’s. The petition echoes Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform’s feelings about this situation by saying the following:
“As doctors and medical students, as nurses and care partners, we are trained in how to safely restrain and tranquilize patients, no matter how aggressive, or irritable, or anxious, or threatening they may be. Never is it appropriate or warranted for a patient to be tazed, never is it appropriate for a patient to be struck, never, never, never is it appropriate for a patient seeking care, to have their life threatened in our arms.”
We ask you all to join Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform in our campaign to ensure that we never have to hear about a situation like this ever again.