Emergency department visits among patients transported by law enforcement officers

PLoS One. 2021 Jan 13;16(1):e0244679. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0244679. eCollection 2021.


Law enforcement officers frequently encounter people with health conditions. We sought to estimate the rates, diagnoses, and characteristics of emergency department (ED) visits among patients transported directly by law enforcement. We analyzed statewide North Carolina Emergency Department data for adults, aged 18+ years, from 2009 to 2016. We estimated transport rates using census data; categorized primary ED diagnoses into 13 major and 8 substituent categories; compared county transport rates by rurality; and examined patient characteristics. There were 136,240 patients transported by law enforcement; annual rates increased from 186.9 (per 100,000 adult residents) in 2009 to 279.2 in 2016. Among visits, 67.7% were among men, the median age was 37 years, and 20.4% resulted in a hospital admission. Most common primary diagnoses were Mental Health Diagnoses (43.1%)-including Schizophrenia and other Psychotic Disorders (7.6%), Mood Disorders (9.7%), and Alcohol and Substance Use (10.7%)-followed by Injury and Poisoning (12.4%) and Circulatory conditions (4.1%). Involuntary commitments constituted 22% of all visits. The median transport rate in rural counties, 291.1, was 2 times that of large metro counties, 145.1. The visit rate increased by nearly 50% during the study period, with the highest rates in rural counties. Many transports were for Mental Illness and involuntary commitments. The relatively common occurrence of law enforcement transports suggests the need for greater research to understand factors influencing law enforcement transport decisions, the impact of these transports on patient health and safety, and the repercussions on patient care of a growing officer presence in EDs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Law Enforcement
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • Mood Disorders / diagnosis
  • North Carolina
  • Psychotic Disorders / diagnosis
  • Rural Population
  • Schizophrenia / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Transportation of Patients*
  • Urban Population
  • Young Adult