Police Officer Richard Armstrong wants to do more than protect and serve. He also wants to patch and save.
In addition to Armstrong’s gun, ammo and bulletproof vest, Armstrong carries amped-up versions of first-aid kits that he can use to help the shot, stabbed and injured that he encounters on the job.
The kits include a tube that he can use to clear someone’s throat so they can breathe after trauma; a chest sheet that he can use to cover a chest wound and a tourniquet that can be wrapped around an extremity to prevent someone from bleeding to death.
“Basically, since I got here, I have tried to convince the department as best as I can and show the value of the training and the equipment,” said Armstrong, 33, of Durham.
The department has started listening.
Last year, Durham County Emergency Medical Services trained officers on using tourniquets. In June, the city approved spending $9,300 to buy 303 tourniquets for police officers.
“Quick accessibility to these potentially life-saving devices could prevent some police and community fatalities,” a city report states.
Traditionally, tourniquets were used as a last resort due to the belief that they constricted blood flow, killed tissue and led to the loss of a limb below the application, the report states.
But that view evolved following experiences and studies on treating patients in combat, along with civilian attacks such as the Boston bombing.
Uncontrolled hemorrhaging is the most preventable cause of death on the battle field and on the streets in the U.S., the report states. Studies show that half of combat fatalities and 39 percent of civilian trauma fatalities are due to uncontrolled hemorrhaging from an extremity.
It is possible to die from the severe loss of blood from femoral arterial bleeding in as little as three minutes, the report states. The femoral artery runs from abdomen to the leg and is the main source of blood to the lower limb.
Before Armstrong joined the police force, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he had basic trauma training and carried with him supplies that he has lobbied for in his kits. Now, Armstrong is in the U.S. Army National Guard, which also uses the items.
In 2012, he joined the Durham Police Department. Initiation includes six months in the police academy and six months in a police training officer program. Part of the latter includes a required Neighborhood Portfolio Exercise.
“It is kind of like a capstone to all of your police training,” Armstrong said.
Recruits have to identify an area that needs improvement and come up with and execute a plan to address it, said Kammie Michael, a spokeswoman for the Police Department.
The projects are proposed to a supervisor and the steps are monitored along the way, Michael said. Then officers present the completed project before a board.
Other projects have included an officer creating and distributing cards for residents to record serial numbers on electronics, an officer labeling apartments building in a local apartment complex to make them more noticeable for emergency responders, and an officer working to make pedestrian crosswalks safer.
Armstrong identified an opportunity to use his Marines training to help some of the injured people he encounters on his job.
“We are not EMTs. We are not medical professionals,” he said. “But there are some basic things that are noninvasive with some fairly inexpensive medical gear that we can use to extend the life of someone until medical professionals get there.”
When EMS trained officers last year, Armstrong provided kits to the 12 members of his squad.
He and at least one other member of his squad used tourniquets in June. Armstrong used one June 11 on a shooting victim who was bleeding heavily from his upper leg. Armstrong was able to stop the bleeding before EMS workers arrived.
On June 30, Officer David Cramer, 28, used a tourniquet to a help a man who had been stabbed in the arm.
“It is really is because of (Armstrong’s) dedication that I was able to have the gear and training to be able to help that gentleman,” Cramer said.
Here are some other examples of Neighborhood Portfolio Exercises completed by recruits in their final step in the training process.
▪ Safe Cards – Officer Andrew Hayes created a “safe card” to record serial numbers, model numbers and descriptions of items purchased. He also worked with a local Walmart to pay for the printing and distributing these cards. Hayes thought customers would be more likely to record serial numbers and other information if the card was given to them when they made their purchases. This information will assist in locating these items later if they are stolen.
▪ Apartment Identification – Officer Jefferson Graham took on the project of labeling apartments and buildings in a local apartment complex to make them more noticeable to emergency responders. He was able to construct several different kinds of numbers that are easily visible day and night. He also met with the management at Stonewood Apartments in north Durham to get these numbers in place.
▪ Neighborhood Clean Up Project – Officer Joshua Harris conducted a neighborhood cleanup in the Southside community. He went door to door in a section of the neighborhood and spoke to the residents about the trash and garbage in their yards. He was able to get some people to place trash at the curb for pick up. He then enlisted local churches, city workers and local residents to assist him in an all-day cleanup of the area.
▪ Pedestrian Safety Operation – Officer David Kub organized two enforcement campaigns. One was on West Club Boulevard at Oval Drive Park and the other was on Fayetteville Street at Pekoe Street by the N.C. Central University campus. Officers in plainclothes tried to cross the streets in the pedestrian crosswalks, and drivers were stopped if they did not yield to pedestrians.