How to Manage a Combative Subject

Campus public safety officers must be able to recognize when a disruptive individual’s behavior is caused by a medical emergency.

For mainstream municipal law enforcement, in-custody death has often been tied to a condition known as Excited Delirium Syndrome (EDS). The symptoms of EDS are typically bizarre behavior, super human strength, sweating, incomprehensible speech and inappropriate dress (often nudity) for the environment. Any attempts at subdual and restraint are met with extreme resistance.

EDS is often associated with males in their mid thirties with histories of illicit drug use and/or mental illness. While slowly gaining acceptance as a legitimate cause of death, it is the chaos and emotion witnessed by bystanders that possibly cause public scrutiny.

Check out a quick list of possible medical causes of abnormal subject behavior.

Unlike municipal law enforcement, college campus police and security are typically dealing with young adults. Campus officers seldom have to deal with members of society who suffer from long-term addiction, and unmanaged and untreated mental illness. While the typical call for a university officer may not involve the hardened and experienced criminals faced by “big city” law enforcement, they are facing a much more complex and delicate situation when confronted by a subject presenting with combative or bizarre behavior.

This individual is likely not to be a hardened criminal, and any infractions being committed are minor. They are probably the result of some poor choices that were made a few hours earlier and not because of intent for wrongdoing.

That being said, the disorderly behavior of college students can be challenging and must be dealt with appropriately. Otherwise, campus police, fire or EMS could suffer the scrutiny of an emotional uninformed public whipped into frenzy by media sensationalism.

When an agitated or violent individual is subdued, restrained and “packaged” for transport, the entire world gets to witness the chaos, thanks to the World Wide Web. If injury or death occurs, whether it is in a patrol car or in a medic unit, the campus will feel the impact. What could be a routine procedure will now be labeled police brutality due to lack of communication and relevant education and training of the officers.

Behavior Sometimes Is Caused by Medical Issues
Sometimes, the cause of the behavior may have medical origins. (see sidebar on page 42) Most agencies provide their members with the basic training in First Aid and CPR. This addresses airway, breathing and circulation (ABCs). The ability of a campus public safety officer to recognize a medical emergency is every bit as important as the treatment of a medical emergency.

The Pediatric Assessment Triangle (see sidebar on page 2 of this article) is included in several courses designed to help rapidly identify a sick child in need of advanced life support (ALS). It is taught to pediatricians, pediatric nurses, flight nurses and paramedics. The concepts of this assessment tool have been incorporated into adult evaluations as well through Competency Based Training (CBT) and Ongoing Training and Evaluation Program (OTEP). These training modules are scenario based and are part of fire/EMS continuing medical education.

If you appreciated this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!

Leading in Turbulent Times: Effective Campus Public Safety Leadership for the 21st Century

This new webcast will discuss how campus public safety leaders can effectively incorporate Clery Act, Title IX, customer service, “helicopter” parents, emergency notification, town-gown relationships, brand management, Greek Life, student recruitment, faculty, and more into their roles and develop the necessary skills to successfully lead their departments. Register today to attend this free webcast!

Get Our Newsletters
Campus Safety Conference promo