November 26, 2012

Training New Jersey Cops to ID Diabetes


Diabetes is a nationwide public enemy. To fight a crime  you first must identify your perp. If the person is innocent but behaving as if they are under the influence of a drug (alcohol or insulin, for example) – police have to protect and serve. Herein lies the dilemma: how can a police officer know how to identify if a person has diabetes?

An unfortunate event in 1999 led to a man with Type 1 diabetes being arrested and imprisoned for a few days without access to his medication. As a result of this experience, a class action lawsuit has changed training and policies on police interaction with people who have diabetes in Philadelphia and elsewhere.

As part of the settlement, the American Diabetes Association and the Philadelphia Police Department jointly produced a diabetes training video and a poster on diabetes information for police. The video plays a critical role in police academy training and has been viewed by every active Philadelphia officer. The posters, which highlight the warning signs of diabetes emergencies, hang visibly in all Philadelphia police facilities. Law enforcement agencies everywhere have incorporated these resources into their training.

It’s ironical and unfortunate that the training video shown at the police academy in Philadelphia is not shown in New Jersey. Had it been part of the NJ police academy training, the state troopers who caused a broken wrist to the director of the video, who has Type 1 diabetes, would have known he was suffering a low blood sugar.

The list continues where incidents of diabetes blood sugar troubles are mistaken for unruly and unlawful behavior. Without question, the job of police officers is dangerous.  On two different occasions diabetes was overlooked as the causation for the calls. Both times the men were wearing medical alert bracelets indicating they had diabetes. However the police wrongly handled the situation.

Philadelphia has risen to the top in training their first responders (police officers, EMTs, firemen) in being able to identify a diabetes situation. Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love. Why should it stop there when it comes to diabetes awareness? New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania are all orangy-red areas on the diabetes prevalence map. Knowing how to recognize and respond to a potentially life-threatening diabetes emergency is essential for every first responder.

The New York Police Department has taken an important first step by meeting with American Diabetes Association medical experts and lawyers to start a much-needed review of its training. The Department of Homeland Security started using the Philadelphia video in its training last year. And local police in Mississippi have sought diabetes training from association volunteers.

As always, the American Diabetes Association has been working to assist law enforcement agencies by providing them with information about diabetes. In fact, the contributing author of this article is a legal advocacy chairman of the American Diabetes Association.

How could you not like Chris Christie and all he continues to do in his hustle for New Jersey? In the wake of Hurricane Sandy he called for gas distribution by even or odd license plates. NYC and Long Island followed his lead. Be the boss in mandating diabetes awareness training for the police force in New Jersey and the nation may follow.

Visit Your Diabetes Health for more resources about health.