Even on ‘routine’ police business, officers are at risk

No one needs to be reminded that when a law enforcement officer leaves home for his or her shift, there’s no guarantee he or she will be alive at shift’s end.

There are myriad dangers out there. No officer knows what he or she will have to confront, whether in terms of a person wielding some kind of weapon, addressing circumstances stemming from an accident, responding to a crime in progress or trying to exercise the best judgment possible in any number of other situations.

Even if not faced with a life-or-death episode, officers’ health and physical well-being are on the line daily. Anyone who might think officers’ pay is too high, or that their benefits are excessive, doesn’t understand police work and the terrible possibilities and potential consequences inherent in it.

In fact, it’s reasonable to say that no officer is paid enough for the service he or she performs on behalf of a community or state. And it’s also reasonable to say that, no matter how much training an officer receives, there always is the possibility that he or she will have to respond to something to which even the most comprehensive police training might not have provided enough focus.

Then there’s the issue that circumstances sometimes prohibit an officer from putting into practice the cautions that he or she was trained to employ — or that someone intentionally or unintentionally causes injury or potential harm to an officer by way of resistance or other inappropriate conduct.

The public has been apprised of many details surrounding an arrest by Altoona police on May 8 during which an officer was stuck with an uncapped hypodermic needle that was in the pocket of a man being apprehended on a bench warrant.

The man was in the process of being patted down by the officer in question after the man indicated that he might have a knife in his possession.

According to police, the man being apprehended had two uncapped syringes in a pocket, told police that he has the liver infection hepatitis C and is on medication to treat it and, otherwise, uses any drug he can.

He said he had used the two syringes to inject himself with drugs.

Common methods of transmission of the hepatitis C virus include sharing hypodermic needles, receiving a tattoo with unsterilized instruments and blood or organ transplants from unscreened donors.

Therefore, having been stuck by one of the man’s needles has put the officer in question at risk, no matter how remote that risk might be.

The situation is another example of how a routine procedure can put an officer’s health and well-being in danger, even if conducted with utmost caution.

According to a recent article in the Altoona Mirror, the officer in question will be required to undergo regular testing and take medication as a result of his contact with the needle. Meanwhile, the man who was apprehended faces charges of simple assault by hypodermic needle — a misdemeanor — and misdemeanor counts of possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.

An important question needing to be addressed is whether the man had intentional, criminal intent in not being upfront with the police immediately about the presence of the syringes.

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