On Monday evening, MCCRC activist Thomas Nephew joined Mike Mage (ACLU Montgomery County) to advocate for Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez’s MC17-14 local bill, which (as stated) would require MCPD and other police forces in the county to deploy automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in their vehicles.
The occasion was a hearing held by the Montgomery County’s House delegation, held at County Council chambers in Rockville. The bill was supported in person by Nephew and Mage, and opposed by Takoma Park Police Chief Alan Goldberg. (MCPD Police Chief Manger and Takoma Park City Manager Suzanne Ludlow were also listed as opposed, but did not appear, presumably submitting written testimony instead.)
In his testimony, Mr. Mage said that recent court decisions hold that the Eighth Amendment compels law enforcement officers to protect the life and health of persons in their custody, and that when a person in custody has a cardiac collapse, carrying out that duty requires immediate access to an AED (according to the American Heart Association). Failure or inability to provide medically recommended and constitutionally required medical care to persons under arrest or in custody could expose the county to serious lawsuits.
Thomas Nephew’s Monday evening testimony follows:
I’m Thomas Nephew. I live in Takoma Park, and speak tonight as a member of the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition. We are strongly in favor of the MC17-14 law requiring MCPD patrol vehicles to carry automated external defibrillators (AEDs).
Our principal reason, of course, is that this legislation will save lives. The more first responders with AEDs, the better a cardiac arrest victim’s chances. There are going to be times when a police vehicle is on the scene before fire or medical vehicles already equipped with these devices, either by chance or – sometimes — by direct involvement in a cardiac arrest. The Rochester, MN Police Department has saved over a hundred lives over a 20 year period with these devices.*
Having voiced our strong support for the bill’s life-saving effects, we also note that the first principle of lifesaving medicine applies here as well: first, do no harm – first, do nothing to bring about ventricular fibrillation and cardiac arrests.
Ironically, tasers — weapons used by MCPD and other law enforcement — can bring about just the fibrillations AEDs are deployed to correct. Depending on the subject, his or her pre-existing conditions, the duration of use, and other conditions, they can bring about death. While taser advocates may well say that’s unpredictable, we feel that’s our point, not theirs. Defibrillator voltages reportedly vary between 700-1,700 volts — those of tasers range from 20,000 to 150,000 volts.
Tasers have brought about or been involved in over 500 US deaths since 2001. In April, Anthony Howard of Gaithersburg died in one such incident. It’s common sense to have AEDs on hand wherever tasers are nearby. It’s also an obligation of legislators and policy makers who’ve allowed tasers to become ubiquitous “compliance tools” — and frankly, according to the United Nations Committee on Torture, the “form of torture” – that are now deployed even in our schools.
Returning to AEDs, then, not only are they life-saving devices, but they’re ethical and moral obligations of the local and state governments that have chosen to deploy tasers. Let’s beat unnecessary tragedies and lawsuits to the punch. Please support MC17-14. Thank you.
The matter is being considered by the Montgomery County delegates to the House, who under the Maryland Constitution can propose binding local legislation to the state legislature.
In comments, Delegate Gutierrez expressed willingness to be flexible about a timetable for acquiring AEDs. For his part, opponent Takoma Park Police Chief Alan Goldberg focused on the “unfunded mandate” the AEDs would impose on local government, and asserted that only the most expensive AEDs could be envisioned since that is what local police train with. (In comments afterwards over dinner, Mr. Mage pointed out that many modern AEDs come with audio instructions and are so simple to use that training can’t be a major issue.)
Among questions posed by delegates, Delegate Sam Arora asked where one might draw the line — should squad cars also carry plasma bags or epinephrine sticks for bee allergies? While I can’t speak to how portable or necessary plasma bags would be, were squad cars to intentionally carry around bee hives, they should be prepared to carry first aid for bee stings as well. Police *do* intentionally carry around devices with a non-negligible probability of causing arrhythmia and fibrillation. They should be only too glad to have a way to treat that. And if, like Takoma Park’s police chief and city government, they’re *not* glad to do so, they should either mothball their tasers or be required to purchase AEDs as well.
* The program was recently featured on NBC Nightly News (10/23/13: Survival rates improve when police use defibrillators).