My grandfather, Eddy Flynn, was a Providence cop. He died in 1962, of leukemia, but I still miss being able to grow up knowing him. Years later, as a nurse volunteer, I met Bob, a retired cop who drove and staffed the Travelers Aid Mobile Medical Van. Bob knew my grandfather. “Eddy,” he said, “was a good guy.”
Bob had a gift for making people safe. He had a calm that settled the people around him, people who walked in off the street, people we served when the van parked at Welcome Arnold and Urban League homeless shelters. Bob knew loss in his own life. He smoked a lot, I think intentionally. He was an officer of the peace.
They say nurses and cops have an affinity. I think so. Our work is very different but we have in common that we deal with people, often at times of crisis. We are always improvising and prepared for the unexpected. We have a code of conduct to live up to and a mission to protect and serve.
We work within a chain of command, with rules. People need to be able to trust us to be accountable. The provisions of the Community Safety Act look to me to have commonalities with standards of care in nursing. I’ve put some in bold print to explain why. Much that was acceptable when I took my first nursing home job as an aide in the 1980’s is not considered best practice today. Some of the things we did to the elderly back then would be considered abusive today. This is not to condemn who we were back then, but to point out that best practice continues to evolve with the times. The nursing profession has undergone a culture change as patient’s rights gained precedence.
As a new nurse I worked in a primary care clinic in the early 90’s- during the AIDS crisis. Nurses don’t face the same risks as police, but caring for people and drawing blood when there is was no treatment for a needle stick concentrates the mind. In 1991 OSHA instituted the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard-volumes of new government rules. Medical workers had been getting hepatitis from dirty needles for decades but AIDS seemed like a scarier way to die. We all knew of patients and medical workers who had become infected. Many of the routines and practices in the ER, in clinics and hospitals proved to be needlessly risky in a time of epidemic.
As if AIDS wasn’t bad enough, there were people raising hysteria around the new OSHA rules. My employer hired a consultant to guide us in how to comply, all he did was rag on the government until one nurse got so worked up she declared that any OSHA inspector who came to her place should get stuck by a dirty needle. We had this deadly untreatable virus going around and some people were attacking the Occupational Safety and Health Administration- an agency mandated to protect us workers. We were under stress and the prospect of being penalized for what had been business as usual added to it.
Despite all the talk of fines and lawsuits waiting to pounce on well-meaning nurses nothing of the sort happened to my clinic. We didn’t change overnight but we did gradually improve our practice by a lot. Patients and workers are safer today and we are better prepared for the next epidemic which will come as sure as nature. Change is hard, but raising standards is better for everyone in the long run.
(1) The Police Department shall maintain a language access hotline to connect police officials in the field with qualified interpreters in a timely manner.
Medical care is improved since the implementation of the Federal mandate to provide an interpreter for non English- speaking patients, including those who use sign language. I worked in an ER in the days when you just grabbed the guy in maintenance who was kind enough to leave his own work and interpret for the patient. Sometimes we drafted the patient’s little kids who should not have had that responsibility. It wasn’t only that patients were getting inferior care, the practitioners were at risk of doing harm from misunderstanding. We have to sleep at night, and most of us really want to help people. Now it’s standard to use a language line and in-person interpreters when needed. The technology is improving so fast that out in the community an interpreter is as close as a cell phone.
The Providence Police Department shall establish policies clearly outlining the definition of “stop” and shall require the completion of an Electronic Data Collection Report the completion of all stops. Said policies shall be public documents and shall be made available on the Police Department website.
When I document an encounter with a patient or provider I know that those notes belong to the patient who can request to see them. In the old days, patients didn’t have as much right to see their own medical records, and nurses wrote some lousy notes. We can’t get away with labeling someone ‘noncompliant’ as much as we used to. We have to look harder at why they won’t or can’t comply with the plan we think is best for them. Knowing we are accountable is a positive pressure to do better.
Compilation of the data collected pursuant to subsection (c)(1), providing at a minimum statistical descriptions of individuals stopped, results of the stop, analyzed by direct and cross-tabulation of race, ethnicity, gender, and age (as perceived by the officer initiating the stop).
Health care is a science as well as an art. It is supposed to be evidence-based. Statistics are a good thing. It’s a pain sometimes to gather the information, but you won’t know what works if you don’t track what you are doing. Police need to know what works for public safety and the public has a right to expect that police practice will be evidence-based.
(13) If an individual has no convictions within a two-year period after their name has been placed on the “gang list,” and no new evidence meeting the criteria for inclusion on the “gang list” has been found, the name shall be removed and all related records destroyed.
Again, this is about evidence-based decision making. It’s not fair that a person should be kept on a “gang list” indefinitely in the absence of a conviction or evidence.
(2) A law enforcement officer shall not detain an individual on the basis of a civil immigration detainer request or an ICE administrative warrant after the individual is eligible for release from custody, unless ICE has a criminal warrant, issued by a judicial officer, for the individual.
The Community Safety Act specifies that this protection doesn’t apply to individuals with a criminal warrant. Our police are not working for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Our police have their own work to do and must not be drafted into running immigration sweeps.
On April 20, before the unanimous first passage of the Community Safety Act, an award ceremony was held for Providence firefighters who saved the life of a seven month old baby girl who had stopped breathing. This is a powerful example of why lives depend on the trust between public safety officers, including the police, and the community.
It’s all too easy to imagine a mother caught between an emergency and the fear that calling 911 will result in deportation. We must not let our public safety be compromised this way. One Providence is not just a slogan, it’s a fact.
In a profession that routinely deals with people in crisis flexibility is essential. There are rules but also judgment calls. The Community Safety Act is written to take that into account, often using qualifiers like, “reasonable suspicion” or “in emergency”.
I’ll come right out and admit that my profession of health care has some bad actors. There are nurses and doctors who abuse the power and trust they are given. These people often abuse their colleagues as well. More transparency and more accountability is in everyone’s best interest. We shouldn’t let bad practice go unchallenged.
It’s frustrating to see a reform undergo revisions for three years and then have it shelved. I hope that the City Council members who voted to table the Act will explain their reasons and that the police and our City Council will openly and publicly discuss their specific concerns and resolve the issues so the Act can pass without watering-down in June.
Too many politicians have declared ‘war on this’ and ‘war on that’. Public Safety is not a war, it’s a collaboration between officers and the community. It has to be. We need each other. Change is hard, but a change in the direction of accountability and transparency will make our city safer for everyone.