For years, many healthcare organizations have used contracted police officers from their local police agencies as security for their facilities. And why not? The use of police in this capacity has tremendous benefit. Police are a deterrent for criminal activity. Police have arrest authority. Police carry all the tools one may want in their security program, up to and including firearms, and they are well trained to use them. Unfortunately, as healthcare security programs mature, more and more of these contracted law enforcement officers (LEOs) are adding more organizational problems than security solutions.
There are two primary areas in which contract LEO labor presents issues with regulatory compliance. First, their use as contract labor (directly via their agency or indirectly via a third-party contract service) often does not meet the basic human resource requirements for compliance with regulatory bodies like The Joint Commission or DNV. For example, DNV requires comprehensive job descriptions, outlined job responsibilities, and documented training that must all be signed and maintained at the ready to present to a surveyor. This is not typically a capacity that many LEO contract services are capable of providing.
Secondly, and more seriously, contract LEOs are committed to their agencies policies and procedures, not to the policies and procedures of the healthcare organization they are contracted with. They will execute their job, and rightly so, under the guidelines of their agency whether or not they conflict with the healthcare organization’s policies. This creates a significant risk for the healthcare organization as they are utilizing contract labor without understanding the manner and process by which they will respond on behalf of the organization.
Finally, the function of police is not the same as the function of security. While complimentary, these are two separate professions. Utilizing police officers as security is just as ineffective as using security officers as police. This is not to disparage one over the other, but instead to show respect for each role in its context. Molly Taft points this issue out well in her recent article on the issue with using police in Vermont hospitals. She says: “Understaffed hospitals in Vermont are engaging local law enforcement as security, but their lack of training means people get hurt, citations are issued, and already-strained regions lose access to healthcare (2020).” The news coming out of Vermont is not good. It is bad news for the hospital, and really bad news for the patients seeking to be served.
The best security solution for healthcare organizations is an employed and well-trained healthcare security department. A department that recognizes and understands the unique issues associated with the healthcare environment. Officers that understand how to access clinical partners when dealing with patients. Police are an amazing resource for our organizations and our communities. In their capacity as law enforcement officials their work is incredible for those they serve. But healthcare facilities need to stop looking to police to solve security problems. That is not their job.
Taft, M. (2020). Cops Are Illegally Detaining and Hurting Mental Health Patients. Retrieved from https://www-vice-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.vice.com/amp/en_ca/article/akwv9b/cops-are-illegally-detaining-and-hurting-mental-health-patients.