Edward Bodigheimer found himself stuck in a bottleneck, sitting with two cops in the emergency room at Memorial Hospital.
He had just been picked up at the scene of a traffic accident and arrested by Colorado Springs police. He had been driving under restraint, his license having been revoked, when he failed to stop at a stop sign and a pick-up truck plowed into his passenger side door.
Despite his protests that he wasn't hurt, Bodigheimer and the CSPD officers who arrested him waited more than two hours in the ER. His blood pressure was taken; a doctor finally asked him a few questions, pinched his stomach, and sent him on his way.
When he was booked in the county jail, he says, he went through a nearly identical screening.
A week later he received the ER bills for the unwanted medical attention: $1,042.
For Bodigheimer, who doesn't have insurance, this amounted to a costly add-on penalty.
For the CSPD patrol officers, it meant two hours spent idling at a hospital.
"The officers weren't happy about waiting around, either," says Bodigheimer, "but there's nothing they can do about it. It's a policy of the sheriff's office."
Protecting the taxpayer
Before detainees can be booked into the county jail, they are asked if they have been in a traffic accident within the past 24 hours. If the answer is yes, the officers who placed the individual under arrest must take the detainee to the hospital for a medical clearance.
"We might pick the guy up 10 hours after the accident," says Pat Rigdon, a CSPD commander. "It's a real tough deal. El Paso County is sympathetic to it, and understands that it creates a backlog."
But, he adds, time spent at the hospital can be "absolutely frustrating" for officers.
Not every county jail has this blanket policy. Pueblo and Arapahoe counties leave the decision of who gets sent to the hospital to the medical staff, either at the scene of the accident, or at the jail's intake. El Paso is not flexible.
"This policy has been in effect for many years," says El Paso County Undersheriff Paula Presley. "We were having issues with people being brought into our facility who had been involved in traffic crashes and had head trauma."
One individual, she says, was recognized as suffering from a head injury after being brought into the ward, and was rushed to the hospital. "Actually, we had a couple pretty close calls," she says.
Presley points out that people involved in a crash might not know they've been injured.
"That's why we have the policy that we do," she says. "We have an obligation to the taxpayers to not recklessly expose them to liability, through violation of constitutional rights."
Rigdon understands, he says, but he also knows how his officers feel about cooling their heels in a hospital waiting room, knowing they're needed on the streets.
When it's pointed out to Rigdon that officers vented about the issue to someone they had arrested, he says, "I think that shows the workload on these officers."
Not going away
"Maybe everybody needs to come to the table," says Rigdon, "and try to work out a solution."
Mike Haley, with the Fountain police department, would like to see that happen as well.
"The frustration is there. Every agency in El Paso County, and that includes federal agencies, would have to comply with the medical clearance if it is requested by the jail staff," Haley says. "It might just be the time to bring the agencies together to discuss this."
One possible solution, he says, might come from his personal experience as a Springs PD reserve officer.
"In the early '90s, the Colorado Springs police would have a reserve officer work Memorial ER, to handle whatever police issues that came up at the time," he says. "They could have that officer take the suspect into custody, and get the patrol officer back on the road, and then make the transport themselves."
That might work, though Haley realizes issues like funding would have to be ironed out.
While Laura Rogers, director of emergency services for Memorial Health System, says the hospital views law enforcement as colleagues, medical considerations will always trump an officer's need to get back on the street.
"The seriously ill or injured will get seen before a police officer and his arrestee," Rogers says, "but we will take a police officer and the patient that he's got before the non-sick ones."
"Our challenge is that we have a lot of really sick people who come in," she says, a daily average of nearly 300 people. According to data provided by Rogers that covers a 13-year period, that number has been on a steady incline.
However, she says, if agencies want to discuss expediting the process, "I would be open to talking to any law enforcement leadership."
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