Tactical Medicine in Domestic Policing


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By Adam Cantrick

From the June 2015 issue of the APJ.

Basic public first aid courses and equipment have been the standard in Australian Police training programs for many years. This article questions the effectiveness and relevance of those programs for frontline policing and discusses current law enforcement first aid requirements. It also provides an overview of tactical medicine.

Police Use of First Aid

The reality of domestic policing in Australia is that police face a small but persistent threat of traumatic injury in the course of their employment. Data compiled by the NSW Police Force indicates that in the 5-year period between 2005 and 2010 there were 16,423 reported incidence of officers being injured (PANSW, 2012). While not all of these were serious injuries, it represents a large number of incidents where police officers may have had to either assess or treat their partner whilst also trying to maintain control of a situation. It also represents occasions where a police officer may have had to provide first aid to themselves in order to continue with their ‘mission’. These figures don’t however represent the scores of occasions where first-responding police may have had to apply first aid to members of the public as they waited for the arrival of ambulance paramedics.

In addition are the number of occasions where police have had to apply first aid to offenders in custody. Police at times are required to use various tactical options, such as TASER® electronic control devices and oleoresin capsicum (O.C.) or pepper spray during the arrest process. When they do they are typically placed in situations where they are required to monitor the condition of the offender and at times apply first aid as they wait for the arrival of ambulance personnel. In these instances role-specific medical training can provide a better capability for officers to transition from the use of force to applying appropriate medical care.

Current First Aid Requirements

The standard Australian workplace first aid course is designed to cover a range of medical emergencies at a basic level. It is generally a two-day course often delivered by instructors with varying levels of clinical experience. The course can be reduced to one day by completing an online learning package. Because it is designed for the general public, it usually does not discuss or teach policing-specific first aid issues such as tactical threat awareness, injured officer extraction, self-medical care under duress and the latest techniques for control of life-threatening haemorrhage.

Currently most police forces in Australia require a new recruit to have a current first aid certificate before attending recruit training and recertify as required throughout their career. Some states do not require police to re-qualify once they have obtained their initial first aid qualification. This potentially creates a situation where police may need to perform life-saving first aid using potentially out-dated and possibly dangerous procedures. These courses also do not discuss or practice skills in a direct threat environment which officers can find themselves in.

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