Lawmakers are considering a bill that would authorize private hospitals to employ police officers.
House Bill 4540 received a favorable “Do Pass” recommendation from members of the House Judiciary Committee, which heard testimony from Joe Tucker, Support Services Administrator for Charleston Area Medical Center Monday morning.
“The problems that go on in those buildings are sometimes just as bad as the problems that go on outside,” Tucker told members of the House Judiciary Committee.
In further testimony, he reported CAMC’s three hospitals currenly employ 73 security officers. If this bill were to pass, they’d hire 13 police officers on top of that, who, unlike security officers, can do more to prevent crime, detect it and make arrests.
“We currently do have a list of banned individuals that come in just to cause problems,” Tucker said.
He added the hospital won’t turn anyone on the list away who needs treatment. Rather, the bill is to keep out the people suspected of shoplifting from the hospital’s gift store.
The list is enforced most by private security officers. According to Tucker, when necessary, CAMC security will call in police officers to temporarily remove someone from the hospital property.
Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said he feared the bill would lead some people to hesitate or shy away from seeking help, or even be denied treatment.
Pushkin ultimately voted on the bill, “reluctantly,” he said, because he said it will do a good thing by freeing up law enforcement, who are repeatedly responding to hospital calls.
“I’m concerned with a private entity having its own police force,” Pushkin said,” [but] I do recognize the need for it, especially in regards to our hospitals here in Charleston. If you go into our emergency rooms, more often than not you’ll see a police officer there.”
Del. Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, who opposes the bill, echoed concerns about how giving one private entity might lead to a “slippery slope.”
“There’s a lot of protection and a lot of authorities that you have when you can exercise the powers of arrest, search and seizure,” Fleischauer said.
Other states, including Indiana and Ohio, allow hospitals to hire and maintain their own police officers.
Del. Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, who introduced the bill, said the proposal is meant to improve law enforcement’s response time to hospital emergencies.
“[In] some of the hospitals we have here, we've had some bad activity that's going on,” Capito said. “We've had some crimes, you've read about some shootings that have occurred, there's been a problem really maintaining and keeping order. And while security as it exists today does provide a deterrent, it clearly isn't doing the job when we look at reaction time and follow up time.”
The bill moves to the House Finance Committee next, but on Tuesday afternoon, the House Judiciary Committee requested Finance dispense that motion and simply send it to the full House. Capito says it’s because he doesn’t anticipate any fiscal impact to the state, since private hospitals will pay for their own police officers and their training.
Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.