Rapid Response: 3 key lessons from the cop, paramedic confrontation video

Failure to effectively communicate during multidisciplinary response may result in serious repercussions

What happened

Video captured a confrontation between Portsmouth (Ohio) Police Sgt. Joel Robinson and a paramedic during the treatment of a patient. The Jan. 28 incident occurred when the officer used a TASER on the paramedic’s aggressive patient. The other first responders on scene were able to successfully restrain and treat the patient despite the distractions between the officer, paramedic and crowd of bystanders.

The viral video has garnered a tremendous response from first responders. Here’s the big question: Was the confrontation between the officer and paramedic appropriately handled? It’s important to point out that neither party was cited for wrongdoing, but there are some important takeaways from this incident.

Why it's significant 

Every call for service that results in a response by multiple agencies from multiple disciplines is bound to have some complications. Law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMS professionals often do not have the opportunity to train together. This shortcoming can cause confusion on scenes, communication barriers and sometimes conflict, as seen from this incident.  

3 key takeaways

1. Everyone is recording
Everyone is recording. This is a paradigm shift in our culture, and officers need to be constantly reminded of this reality. The public, businesses, local government and officers are recording. Officers are recorded by official (dash cams, CCTV, body-worn cameras) and unofficial (cell phones) means. Police officers need to understand that videos only show a fraction of a scenario, but when they go viral they can become damaging. With this in mind, it is important for officers to be reminded during roll call about working in an environment in which they are being constantly recorded.

2. De-escalation training
Decision making under stress is a requirement of the job. How well officers perform under stressful conditions will vary by individual and incident. However, the fundamentals of de-escalation are the same no matter the scenario: diffuse a tense situation, communicate and do not compromise officer safety. Officers are trained early in their careers how to de-escalate a tense situation and regular refresh training is important.

In this incident and based on the video footage, Sgt. Jenkins diffused the situation by removing the paramedic from the scene. What’s unique about this case is that Sgt. Jenkins was in a position to apply de-escalation tactics on a fellow first responder. This incident, not one that is commonly encountered during a call for service, opens up the opportunity to have a discussion with allied emergency responders and educate them about de-escalation tactics the agency employs.

3. Establishing command
Unified command can make or break a multi-agency response to any incident. In this particular case, who was in charge? Was it the officer who was controlling the crowd and safety of the patient? Was it the paramedic who was initially treating the patient? Was it the firefighters once they arrived to treat the patient? The answers will vary based on who you ask. The main point is that it is absolutely critical to establish a unified command for an effective joint response to any call for service. This is a conversation that must be had in each jurisdiction in order to keep all first responders safe.

What's next 

Officers can expect to see more videos surfacing from other incidents. The next time this occurs, it is important for you to remember that it could be you on the recording. Given this, it is critical not to pass judgment on a fellow officer or first responder without knowing the totality of the circumstances. While having an opinion is certainly reasonable, how you choose to vocalize it is a reflection of character.

When officers find themselves in a position to remove an allied first responder from a scene, it is important to do so by the necessary means, but then to make sure the incident commander or supervisor on scene is aware of the situation.

Learn more

While the officer and paramedic were not charged with any wrongdoing, the video from this incident opens up the discussion that all agencies need to have about the emergence of video recordings, applying de-escalation tactics on allied first responders and establishing a unified command during a multi-agency response. Here are some articles to learn more about de-escalation tactics and multi-agency response.

7 easy steps to successful de-escalation

What the public needs to know about police de-escalation tactics

Ferguson lessons: A model of police, fire, and EMS teamwork

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