Fear of Police May Stop Latinos From Seeking Emergency Medical Care

EMTs load a patient into an ambulanceEvery year, nearly 600,000 people in the United States experience cardiac arrest—a sudden disruption in the heart’s electrical system that can cause the heart to stop beating. In 2013, only 9.5% of people who experienced a cardiac arrest outside a hospital setting survived. Prompt medical attention and CPR can increase the survival rate, so even a slight delay in seeking help can prove deadly. According to a troubling new study, though, many Latino people avoid calling 911 during a cardiac episode because they are afraid of the police.

Could Fear of the Police Increase Cardiac Arrest Deaths?

Dr. Comilla Sasson of the University of Colorado School of Medicine, the study’s lead author, wanted to explore why some Latino people delay or avoid calling 911 during a cardiac episode.

Sasson’s research team interviewed residents of mostly low-income Denver-area Latino neighborhoods, asking about why residents were reluctant to call 911 or to offer CPR to cardiac arrest victims. According to Sasson, rates of cardiac arrest are higher in low-income neighborhoods, and the likelihood of a bystander intervening and offering CPR is lower. Most respondents listed fear of police as their primary reason for not calling 911. Among undocumented immigrants, in particular, fear of the police is high, since an arrest could mean weeks spent in a detention center followed by a deportation that separates them from their family.

Some myths about medical care also reduced the likelihood of a Latino neighborhood resident calling 911. Some respondents believed ambulances have to be paid for upfront, a practice that is common in Mexico. Others reported not recognizing the symptoms of cardiac arrest and being unfamiliar with CPR. Some reported fears that if they offered help, their assistance might be misinterpreted. And many emphasized that language barriers undermined their willingness and ability to seek help.

Sasson argues that culturally sensitive public education campaigns could help reduce fear, thus encouraging Latinos to call 911 when they need help.


  1. Cardiac arrest statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/General/Cardiac-Arrest-Statistics_UCM_448311_Article.jsp#
  2. Fear of police keeps many Hispanics from calling 911, study says. (2014, December 12). Retrieved from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2014/12/12/fear-of-police-keeps-many-hispanics-from-calling-911-study-says

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  • trey


    December 23rd, 2014 at 11:06 AM

    I am sorry but I truly do not understand where all of this fear of the police is coming from. Did I miss something here or aren’t these the same people who have been sworn to protect and serve? Did I miss the memo that something had changed??

  • Kayla


    December 23rd, 2014 at 2:13 PM

    This does not make any sense to me personally but I do know that those form other cultural backgrounds could have had a very different experience with authority then that which I have had so they may naturally be a little more fearful of those in uniform than the rest of us are.

    I am not scared of police officers because I see all that they do to help others but if you have not seen that on a personal level I can understand how you may feel threatened or that they are out to get you rather than help myou.

  • Hector


    December 23rd, 2014 at 8:06 PM

    I’m sure the reluctance levels are higher in newer immigrants than those that have spent some time here.It can be challenging for some people who have their doubts when they pick the phone up to dial 911.It cannot really be well understood by someone who has never faced such problems but that does not mean the problem doesn’t exist for some others.I think it would be great if inclusive programs that look to integrate different groups are carried out an people that are now reluctant get the help they so desperately need.

  • Margaret


    December 25th, 2014 at 4:20 AM

    Why does calling 911 have to mean that you are calling the cops anyway? Doesn’t that just mean that you are calling for medical help? The cops aren’t necessarily going to be the ones coming to offer that!

  • Ashe


    December 26th, 2014 at 7:15 AM

    I would be curious to know if this is something that is isolated to the Latino community or if there are other minority groups in this country who would have the same sort of response and fear.

  • raul


    December 27th, 2014 at 11:50 AM

    If you had witnessed some of the things that we have in our neighborhood over the years then I think that you would find it a little more understandable that many of us are afraid of the police and afraid to ask for their help. We know that there are services available, but it never really feels like that is for us, that it is only others who will benefit but that we will shoulder much of the neglect and the abuses that power can bring with it.

  • Jacob


    December 31st, 2014 at 11:05 AM

    So it sounds to me like there very much needs to be some community outreach in these areas where this kind of fear is prevalent so that they can be made to see that not all cops are bad and that they must not let their past experiences with the legal system could their judgement when it comes to saving their own life!

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