“Excessive Force” Study Gravely Flawed, Says FSRC

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Strong skepticism has been expressed by the Force Science Research Center regarding a recently publicized survey showing that a high percentage of emergency room doctors believe they see evidence of police brutality in the patients they treat.

The poll, published in Emergency Medicine Journal, reports that 99.8% of ER physicians responding to a random-sample survey believe that excessive use of force by police “actually occurs” and that 97.8% say they have managed patients they suspect were victims of excessive force.

The survey, conducted by a research team of 6 MDs, including faculty members at some of the nation’s leading medical schools, has received coverage in a wide variety of professional publications, as well as the mass media, under headlines such as: “Excessive Police Violence Evident in Emergency Room Cases, U.S. Docs Say.” A description of the report and directions for purchasing a full copy can be accessed by clicking here.

If you are confronted with this study in dialog with civilians or challenged with it in a courtroom, Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of FSRC at Minnesota State University-Mankato, argues emphatically that there are more than adequate grounds for countering it.

“The survey’s methods appear to conform to academic standards,” Lewinski told Force Science News, “but the results are meaningless. It’s impossible for ER physicians to know the context of injuries just by looking at them. The nature of an injury is totally unrelated to the justification for the level of force responsible for it.

“In essence, this survey is of little use or benefit to society, and it tends to malign law enforcement unjustly and unscientifically.”

The researchers’ findings were based on mailed responses from 315 full-time academic ER doctors associated with emergency medicine residency training programs in the U.S. The vast majority were Caucasian males between 30-50 years old, board-certified in emergency medicine, practicing in cities of 250,000 to more than 1,000,000 population, and affiliated with university, community, or public teaching hospitals.

The 97.8% who believe they have treated victims of police brutality made this determination based on their own suspicions or on what they were told by the patients themselves, the study states. About 65% said they recognized 2 or more cases of “suspected excessive use of force per year.” Some 7% believe excessive force occurs “often” or “very often,” while only a tiny fraction of 1% (0.2%) believe it never occurs.

As to the types of excesses suspected, 95.5% of the responders cited “blunt trauma,” 95.2% “fists and feet,” 73.1% “handcuffs too tight,” 48.6% “night sticks,” and 26.9% “flashlights.” In short, the researchers conclude, “The suspicion of excessive use of force by law enforcement officers is clearly an issue encountered” by emergency room physicians.

The very last line of study report acknowledges what Lewinski points out is the “fatal flaw” of this research. The survey questions, the authors concede, “asked respondents to make a subjective judgment, most often without objective evidence; as such, this study reflects EPs’ [emergency physicians’] perceptions of events rather than what actually happened.”

This is the limitation, Lewinski says, that renders the study meaningless.

“First of all,” he notes, “relying on suspects to accurately report whether they have experienced excessive force or not is absurd. In the 40 years I have been involved with law enforcement, I’ve never known a suspect who was injured by police to say, ‘Oh, yes, I received just the right amount of force that was necessary to control my resistance.’

“Moreover, one has to ask what else the surveyed physicians were basing their suspicions on. Other than what a patient or an officer says, a doctor in the ER has no knowledge of the context in which force was used or how it relates to policy, procedure, training, or the law.

“Depending on the circumstances, police can use force that results in injuries up to and including death and not have that force considered by law to be excessive. A doctor who’s unfamiliar with all the elements involved simply can’t use the extent or nature of injury as a basis for judging whether force was appropriate.

“It is fair to say that most ER physicians have never ridden in a squad car and seen first-hand the kinds of force situations officers are thrust into. Most have no information or training on what constitutes excessive force. Yet in their responses to this survey, they are making judgments on a professional activity they really know nothing about.

“That’s ironic when you consider how sensitive doctors are as a group to any outsiders second-guessing their professional decisions!

“All this study really tells us is that ER physicians sometimes have suspicions based wholly on non-scientific data that excessive force was used. To report this as a serious finding is misleading to the public and smears, by implication, the professional integrity of law enforcement officers throughout the country.”

Among the doctors surveyed, roughly 70% thought “it is within their scope of practice to refer cases of suspected use of excessive force for investigation,” although more than 70% said they do not currently report their suspicions. About half believe that such reporting by ER physicians “should be legally required,” as is the case with suspicions of child abuse, sexual assaults, weapons wounds, etc.

“Assessing police use-of-force injuries is significantly and qualitatively different from any other area they’re required to report on,” Lewinski notes. Nonetheless, voicing a suspicion of his own, he speculates that this survey will be used to encourage legislation for mandatory reporting by ER personnel of suspected police brutality.

[Our thanks to Chris Lawrence, a member of FSRC’s national advisory board, for tipping us about this survey.]

Leave a Reply


  • Privacy Policy

Privacy Policy

Effective date: January 06, 2019

Force Science Institute, Ltd. (“us”, “we”, or “our”) operates the https://www.forcescience.org/ website (hereinafter referred to as the “Service”).

This page informs you of our policies regarding the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data when you use our Service and the choices you have associated with that data. Our Privacy Policy for Force Science Institute, Ltd. is based on the Privacy Policy Template from Privacy Policies.

We use your data to provide and improve the Service. By using the Service, you agree to the collection and use of information in accordance with this policy. Unless otherwise defined in this Privacy Policy, the terms used in this Privacy Policy have the same meanings as in our Terms and Conditions, accessible from https://www.forcescience.org/

Information Collection And Use

We collect several different types of information for various purposes to provide and improve our Service to you.

Types of Data Collected

Personal Data

While using our Service, we may ask you to provide us with certain personally identifiable information that can be used to contact or identify you (“Personal Data”). Personally identifiable information may include, but is not limited to:

  • Email address
  • First name and last name
  • Phone number
  • Address, State, Province, ZIP/Postal code, City
  • Cookies and Usage Data

Usage Data

We may also collect information on how the Service is accessed and used (“Usage Data”). This Usage Data may include information such as your computer’s Internet Protocol address (e.g. IP address), browser type, browser version, the pages of our Service that you visit, the time and date of your visit, the time spent on those pages, unique device identifiers and other diagnostic data.

Tracking & Cookies Data

We use cookies and similar tracking technologies to track the activity on our Service and hold certain information.

Cookies are files with small amount of data which may include an anonymous unique identifier. Cookies are sent to your browser from a website and stored on your device. Tracking technologies also used are beacons, tags, and scripts to collect and track information and to improve and analyze our Service.

You can instruct your browser to refuse all cookies or to indicate when a cookie is being sent. However, if you do not accept cookies, you may not be able to use some portions of our Service. You can learn more how to manage cookies in the Browser Cookies Guide.

Examples of Cookies we use:

  • Session Cookies. We use Session Cookies to operate our Service.
  • Preference Cookies. We use Preference Cookies to remember your preferences and various settings.
  • Security Cookies. We use Security Cookies for security purposes.

Use of Data

Force Science Institute, Ltd. uses the collected data for various purposes:

  • To provide and maintain the Service
  • To notify you about changes to our Service
  • To allow you to participate in interactive features of our Service when you choose to do so
  • To provide customer care and support
  • To provide analysis or valuable information so that we can improve the Service
  • To monitor the usage of the Service
  • To detect, prevent and address technical issues

Transfer Of Data

Your information, including Personal Data, may be transferred to — and maintained on — computers located outside of your state, province, country or other governmental jurisdiction where the data protection laws may differ than those from your jurisdiction.

If you are located outside United States and choose to provide information to us, please note that we transfer the data, including Personal Data, to United States and process it there.

Your consent to this Privacy Policy followed by your submission of such information represents your agreement to that transfer.

Force Science Institute, Ltd. will take all steps reasonably necessary to ensure that your data is treated securely and in accordance with this Privacy Policy and no transfer of your Personal Data will take place to an organization or a country unless there are adequate controls in place including the security of your data and other personal information.

Disclosure Of Data

Legal Requirements

Force Science Institute, Ltd. may disclose your Personal Data in the good faith belief that such action is necessary to:

  • To comply with a legal obligation
  • To protect and defend the rights or property of Force Science Institute, Ltd.
  • To prevent or investigate possible wrongdoing in connection with the Service
  • To protect the personal safety of users of the Service or the public
  • To protect against legal liability

Security Of Data

The security of your data is important to us, but remember that no method of transmission over the Internet, or method of electronic storage is 100% secure. While we strive to use commercially acceptable means to protect your Personal Data, we cannot guarantee its absolute security.

Service Providers

We may employ third party companies and individuals to facilitate our Service (“Service Providers”), to provide the Service on our behalf, to perform Service-related services or to assist us in analyzing how our Service is used.

These third parties have access to your Personal Data only to perform these tasks on our behalf and are obligated not to disclose or use it for any other purpose.


We may use third-party Service Providers to monitor and analyze the use of our Service.

  • Google AnalyticsGoogle Analytics is a web analytics service offered by Google that tracks and reports website traffic. Google uses the data collected to track and monitor the use of our Service. This data is shared with other Google services. Google may use the collected data to contextualize and personalize the ads of its own advertising network.You can opt-out of having made your activity on the Service available to Google Analytics by installing the Google Analytics opt-out browser add-on. The add-on prevents the Google Analytics JavaScript (ga.js, analytics.js, and dc.js) from sharing information with Google Analytics about visits activity.For more information on the privacy practices of Google, please visit the Google Privacy & Terms web page: https://policies.google.com/privacy?hl=en

Links To Other Sites

Our Service may contain links to other sites that are not operated by us. If you click on a third party link, you will be directed to that third party’s site. We strongly advise you to review the Privacy Policy of every site you visit.

We have no control over and assume no responsibility for the content, privacy policies or practices of any third party sites or services.

Children’s Privacy

Our Service does not address anyone under the age of 18 (“Children”).

We do not knowingly collect personally identifiable information from anyone under the age of 18. If you are a parent or guardian and you are aware that your Children has provided us with Personal Data, please contact us. If we become aware that we have collected Personal Data from children without verification of parental consent, we take steps to remove that information from our servers.

Changes To This Privacy Policy

We may update our Privacy Policy from time to time. We will notify you of any changes by posting the new Privacy Policy on this page.

We will let you know via email and/or a prominent notice on our Service, prior to the change becoming effective and update the “effective date” at the top of this Privacy Policy.

You are advised to review this Privacy Policy periodically for any changes. Changes to this Privacy Policy are effective when they are posted on this page.

Contact Us

If you have any questions about this Privacy Policy, please contact us:

  • By email: support@forcescience.org
  • By visiting this page on our website: https://www.forcescience.org/contact
  • By phone number: 866-683-1944
  • By mail: Force Science Institute, Ltd.