D.C. police officers are spending too much time in hospitals, Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier says.
But the problem isn’t officers getting hurt on the job, it’s officers being sent to hospitals to guard people who have been arrested.
That’s why, as part of her latest budget proposal, the chief has sought to shift responsibility for the city’s Central Cellblock — where arrestees are housed before their presentment in court — to the Department of Corrections. The current breakdown of responsibility means police officers are required to accompany arrestees with any injury or ailment to a hospital for treatment. The issue is exacerbated on Saturday nights as arrestees must be held at the Central Cellblock, at police headquarters until court reopens Monday morning.
“I’ve seen weekends when we’ve had as many as 40 officers held out of service on hospital details guarding prisoners,” Chief Lanier said during testimony Monday at a D.C. Council committee hearing. “The hospital visits are more frequent on Saturday nights, exactly when I need officers on the streets the most.”
An average of seven to 13 officers per day spend time in hospitals guarding arrestees, she said.
The shift in responsibility will allow 17 sworn police officers currently assigned to the Central Cellblock to be assigned to other duties, such as patrol, said Paul A. Quander Jr., the deputy mayor for public safety and justice.
“Putting those officers back on the street is a tremendous cost-saving benefit to us,” Mr. Quander said, noting that Department of Corrections officers guard and transport prisoners at the D.C. Jail who need to be taken to a hospital.
Another 38 positions held by civilian employees at the Central Cellblock will be shifted to the Department of Corrections, a move that has angered union officials who say older workers currently holding the positions will have to reapply for the jobs and will make less money.
“I see that it’s a way of weeding the majority of my colleagues and myself out of the system,” said Antonio Reed, president of the National Association of Government Employees, Local R3-05, which represents civilian police department employees.
Others believe that another plan under development, which would place a physician’s assistant at the Central Cellblock, could cut down on the hours officers spend at hospitals without shifting employees.
“This will eliminate any sworn officers’ drain that does exist,” union Vice President Lyonell Robinson testified at Monday’s hearing.
Mr. Quander said he hopes the plan to place a triage clinic at the Central Cellblock to diagnose and treat arrestees for minor ailments will be in place by the end of the summer.
Many of the complaints and injuries that require a trip to a hospital are “minor ailments,” Chief Lanier said, but the trip often requires two officers. About 25 percent of the ailments are cuts or abrasions, another 18 percent are for complaints such as joint pain, toothaches or headaches, she said.
Even if the shift is approved, police officers who book arrestees at police stations could still be required to transport people to a hospital for care, Mr. Quander said. The new plan would require Department of Corrections personnel to take over the supervision duty at the hospital so the officer could get back on the street.