Rep. Hakeem: Train Tennessee law enforcement officers to recognize, respond to medical crisis

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, right, talks of the cooperation needed to pass legislation at a June town hall in Chatttanooga held by the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators. Hakeem is sponsoring a bill that would add training on recognizing and responding to medical crises to the state's law enforcement standards commission.
Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, right, talks of the cooperation needed to pass legislation at a June town hall in Chatttanooga held by the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators. Hakeem is sponsoring a bill that would add training on recognizing and responding to medical crises to the state's law enforcement standards commission.

A Chattanooga lawmaker wants Tennessee officers to be better equipped to recognize and respond when someone in their custody is having a medical crisis.

Democratic Rep. Yusuf Hakeem hopes that responding to medical needs during an arrest can "become second nature" for law enforcement officers, he said by phone Thursday.

His proposal, House Bill 1170, passed in the House this week and is waiting to be discussed on the Senate floor.

If passed, it would add materials and guidelines on medical crises to training done by the Tennessee Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission. The commission certifies new law enforcement officers in the state and provides additional training to existing officers.

(READ MORE: Tennessee Rep. Hakeem plans bill banning further sales of semi-automatic guns in upcoming special session)

Hakeem cited the story of Darren Boykin, who died in 2019 after being arrested in Texarkana, Texas. Boykin told officers he felt he was going to faint and couldn't breathe after running from officers for about half a mile in hot weather. He was reportedly unconscious by the time they reached the jail and was pronounced dead after being taken to a hospital.

"We may not realize that they're having a crisis, and death can occur," Hakeem said.

Locally, he referenced a 2004 incident where Chattanooga police restrained and injured a resident, Leslie Prater, who died in custody. The coroner ruled Prater's death a homicide, citing positional asphyxiation during restraint.

Hakeem said he workshopped the bill with members of the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, attorneys and the state's Department of Correction.

Kevin Walters, spokesperson for the department that oversees the commission, said it doesn't comment on bills before they become law when reached by phone this week.

In Chattanooga, a police policy directs officers to seek alternatives to arrest for people who require medical attention — including referrals to another agency or giving a warning or citation instead of taking the person to jail. Policies also instruct officers to monitor a person after using force to detain them.

(READ MORE: State commission tells Grundy sheriff to fix problems or he could be out of office)

Right now, there are no standard state guidelines for officers dealing with someone in their care undergoing a medical crisis, bill co-sponsor Sen. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, said in a committee hearing this week.

"We just want to make sure people are safe and also the officers have the tools they need to keep them safe," Akbari said.

The training wouldn't task officers with treating medical needs, Akbari said, only with recognizing when and how to get help during a crisis.

According to the bill, medical crisis training would not be required for officers to become certified. It's meant to make those guidelines and materials more widely available and help get officers used to implementing them without a mandate, Hakeem said.

Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon, worried the requirement could increase the liability on cities and counties, he said during Tuesday's committee hearing.

"If something does arise, does this create any kind of argument that their potential negligence is greater as a result of having this additional guideline and best practices?" Stevens asked.

Akbari said the bill does not create any additional duty or standard of care, especially since the training is not required for certification.

Contact Ellen Gerst at egerst@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6319.

  photo  Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Sen. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, speaks during a town hall in June in Chattanooga held by the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators. Akbari is a co-sponsor with Chattanooga Rep. Yusuf Hakeem on a bill proposing training on medical crises for law enforcement officers.
 
 


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