According to a study published last year by USA Today, nearly 6,000 doctors nationwide between 2001 and 2011 had their privileges restricted or revoked by hospitals and other medical institutions due to malpractice related to patient care.
National figures show that roughly 1,000 attorneys each year are disbarred, most often because of professional misconduct.
Meanwhile, newspapers are filled with stories of financial professionals, nonprofit workers, clergy members and, yes, even journalists showing poor judgment on the job, errors that land them in jail, in civil court and/or in unemployment lines.
Given all of that, why is it that we have such a hard time discussing how those in the profession of public safety sometimes, like everyone else, make mistakes?
Instead, it seems every time there’s a questionable officer-involved shooting, like the one that’s now tearing apart the town of Ferguson, Mo., barr-icades go up, a code of silence is enforced and the general public gets the message: “Yes, this was a tragedy. But it wasn’t personal. It was protocol.”
No admission of responsibility. No acknowledgment of how the situation could have been handled differently. And, certainly, no apology.
It’s a dead-end conversation. And the result is predictable: More public outrage, more distrust, more lawsuits.
It’s no doubt one reason why many Sonoma County residents were frustrated last week at the news that Deputy Erick Gelhaus, the officer responsible for the shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez was put back out on patrol. Yes, 10 months later, the community appears to be moving toward some significant changes, including putting cameras on deputy uniforms, improving oversight of officer-involved shootings and, possibly, creating a public park at the corner of Moorland and W. Robles avenues where the shooting occurred. But putting the deputy back on patrol was a harsh reminder that we’re no closer to having assurances that what happened on Oct. 22, 2013 won’t happen again.
Andy certainly had the power to prevent it by not carrying a toy rifle that closely resembled a real weapon and by responding more quickly to the officer’s commands to drop the weapon. But there’s still no acknowledgment of what the deputy could have done differently.
Last month, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch concluded that when Gelhaus fired, striking the boy seven times, he believed the threat was real and was following protocol and training, and therefore his actions didn’t warrant criminal charges. No surprise. I don’t believe most people really believed Gelhaus should face prison time. But what we still haven’t heard is whether he made a mistake — and what the department is doing to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Based on the county’s findings in this case, I also have to ask, if another officer in the same situation had avoided firing, thus sparing Andy’s life, does this mean he or she would have been in violation of protocols and training?
If so, heaven help us.
All of this leaves little room for hope of a different outcome next time. Law enforcement stands a better chance of diffusing protests here and even those in Missouri if they took less of a defensive position and were more willing to acknowledge that officers are human — people who sometimes make mistakes.
The medical profession began to recognize the value of such a simple approach more than a decade ago when, according to the New York Times, prominent academic medical centers such as Johns Hopkins and Stanford began “trying (the) disarming approach. By promptly disclosing medical errors and offering earnest apologies and fair compensation” when errors were made. In the process, they hoped “to restore integrity to dealings with patients, make it easier to learn from mistakes and dilute anger that often fuels lawsuits.” Other hospitals soon followed.
Crisis Care: The new mental institutions
Sonoma County has a chronic shortage of psychiatric hospital beds. As as a result, a growing number of mentally ill residents are ending up in local emergency rooms and in the jail system. A four-part series, run on four consecutive Sundays, examines the causes and ramifications of the current state of the county’s mental health system, and the people who are impacted the most.
Aug. 6 — Hospitals: The closure of two psychiatric hospitals in Sonoma County has left a gaping hole.
Aug. 27 — Your response: Readers share their stories about Sonoma County's mental health system.
Ongoing coverage: www.pressdemocrat.com/crisiscare
Share your story
We want to hear about your experience with local psychiatric emergency services. What do you do when you or a loved one faces a mental health crisis? Have you or a loved one sat in a hospital bed waiting to be transferred to an out-of-county psychiatric hospital or other mental health facility? Have you or a loved one received psychiatric services in the Sonoma County Jail’s mental health unit? Please send a brief account of your experience to Martin Espinoza at firstname.lastname@example.org.