Cops in Scrubs

60 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2022

See all articles by Ji Seon Song

Ji Seon Song

University of California, Irvine School of Law

Date Written: August 27, 2021


An encounter with police often involves more than just the police officer and the individual person. This Article highlights one particular actor integral to police investigations: the medical professional. Medical professionals, whether they be physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, or other healthcare providers, become part of investigations in many ways. They notify police of crimes. They facilitate police questioning. They provide information gleaned from patient conversations, patient belongings, and their bodies.

The intertwined relationship between medical professionals and law enforcement is embedded in the legal and regulatory framework. A constellation of laws directs medical professionals to cooperate with law enforcement with very little countervailing authority or guidance on when they should not. These laws force medical professionals—even when they act with good intentions—to move away from medical judgment and be coopted as “cops in scrubs.” Ultimately, the existing legal and regulatory regimes are insufficient in guarding against overbroad police and medical authority. I explore three categories of overlap between medical professionals and law enforcement: crime reporting, questioning of patients, and evidence procured through medical procedures. This exploration reveals a spectrum of how medical professionals act in response to their responsibilities to public safety. Medical professionals may be acting in their role as healthcare providers in the face of difficult ethical, legal, and moral obligations or acting in concert with police. This wide spectrum results in part from courts broadly construing medical professionals’ duties to public safety, the insufficient accounting of the particular potency of medical professionals as aid-to or part of police investigations, and the inadequacies of existing criminal procedure safeguards.

The relationship between medical professionals and law enforcement must be viewed against the backdrop of historical and contemporary racial discrimination and bias by law enforcement and medical institutions. The inadequate regulation of the over-lap of medical professionals and law enforcement puts poor and racial minorities groups at risk of experiencing an amplified and compounded bias. This Article highlights that potential aggregated effect where people may experience not only worse medical outcomes but also criminal punitiveness because of their race and class. The Article concludes by suggesting doctrinal and statutory changes and other prescriptions as countervailing authority that would allow medical professionals to push back against overbroad police authority.

Funding Information: None.

Conflict of Interests: None.

Keywords: policing, healthcare, medical privacy, criminal procedure, health law

Suggested Citation

Song, Ji Seon, Cops in Scrubs (August 27, 2021). Florida State University Law Review, Vol. 48, No. 4, 2021, Available at SSRN:

Ji Seon Song (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine School of Law ( email )

401 E Peltason Dr.
Irvine, CA 92697
United States

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics