Interview with Graham McKinnon, CEO of Protective Outfitters
by Samantha Korb, NCHRC Intern
When I spoke to Graham McKinnon, CEO of Protective Outfitters, I came across with the feeling that there is no one more invested in not only his business, but in his innovative and lifesaving product, the Ampel Probe. “The Ampel Probe is a hand held tool most closely resembling a pair of large pliers and is used to safely pick up materials that could potentially harm the public, like syringes”. Protective Outfitters, the company started by McKinnon, specializes in this tool that helps protect the lives of professionals in a variety of industries, including law enforcement, first responders, forensic teams and many more communities. McKinnon says “the Ampel Probe is a device that customers have stated protect users from sharps injuries and their associated from diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C.”
McKinnon started Protective Outfitters because he saw the usage of the Ampel Probe as a “win/win situation” for its users and the general public. He connected with the late Stuart Ample, who invented the Ampel Probe in 1995. McKinnon tells me that Ampel actually created the Ampel Probe “after watching an episode of the television series, Cops, where the officer was conducting a pat down of a suspect with his bare hands.” According to a 2000 Sun-Sentential interview, the Ampel probe was actually used in the 1997 murder of Gianni Versace to collect evidence.
Since its early usage by the Boca Raton Police Department in 1995, the Ampel Probe has received numerous positive testimonies, including a particular testimony that McKinnon recalls. “Two officers, one veteran officer and one rookie, were conducting an arrest of a known prostitute who was HIV positive. The rookie was about to search through her purse when the veteran suggested to the rookie, “Wait a minute, use this tool”. Fortunately, the rookie officer heeded the warning as there were 4 or 5 different syringes loaded with her blood in her purse wrapped in tissue paper to conceal the threat. Using the Ampel Probe prevented the officer from getting stuck by the needles and possibly infected with HIV.” Additionally, McKinnon was informed that several years ago a department of corrections system in Europe has mandated the use of the Ampel Probe by their officers when searching inmates. “Since the use of the Ampel Probe was mandated, it has been reported that not only have accidental needle sticks decreased, but have been eliminated within the department.”
I asked McKinnon if needle stick resistant gloves were still okay to use. Although McKinnon advocates the use of protective gloves he states, “Gloves alone are not protection enough. None of the glove manufacturers guarantee that the glove will prevent a needle stick 100% of the time… and no one in their right mind wants to be that small percentage statistic where the gloves actually fail.” This is why McKinnon and Protective Outfitters advocate for using PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) that offers critical “stand-off distance.” Stand-off distance is that distance between the user and whatever they may come into contact. McKinnon said, “It is only common sense that if you can get the job done effectively without actually placing your hand of what you are searching, your level of safety will undoubtedly increase.”
McKinnon is a strong supporter of syringe decriminalization as he doesn’t believe it would increase drug usage, but rather he feels it would actually increase safety for law enforcement, potential suspects and the general public. McKinnon says, “By decriminalizing the possession of syringes, suspects will be more likely to willingly notify officers that they in fact have them on their person when questioned. Officers place themselves at a great deal of risk on a daily basis, perhaps more so when confronting citizens while on patrol. By suspects being unwilling to acknowledge their possession of syringes, an officer is at an even greater risk than need be. Every step should be taken in order to improve the safety of officers and the community. Unfortunately, drug use will continue regardless. However syringe decriminalization would certainly be a step in the right direction to increase officer and public safety.”
He later goes on to say that the Ampel Probe has a variety of applications for a broad range of industries and use at a syringe exchange program or site would definitely be in line with the tool’s purpose. McKinnon says after proper training and practice, the Ampel Probe becomes second nature and seems to act as “an extension of the user’s hand.” McKinnon hopes that more police departments, and all those that may be in professions where contact with hazardous material is an occupational risk, will use a product like the Ample Probe to improve their safety. To him, “it’s really not just about the making money, but more so about increasing safety and saving lives of those that protect us.”
For more information about Protective Outfitters and the Ampel Probe, call (772) 242-3345 or visitwww.protectiveoutfitters.com.
Interview on Syringe Exchange with Rick Basile,Retired Chief of Police, Ithaca, NY
Rick Basile served on an advisory committee for Ithaca, New York’s first syringe exchange program – while he was Chief of Police.
“I learned about harm reduction and syringe exchange programs during an interview,” explains Basile, a 30 year law enforcement veteran. “In Ithaca the interview process to become Chief of Police was unusual. Different people from the community came in and had about 45 minutes to ask me questions. One person, George Ferrari of AIDS Work, asked me how I felt about harm reduction and I didn’t know what it was. George explained to me about syringe exchange programs. Once I learned that they reduce needle-sticks to officers [by 66%], I was sold.”
Officers who receive accidental needle-sticks are at risk for transition of blood borne diseases, such as HIV and especially hepatitis C, a virus that attacks the liver and can lead to liver failure.
“I had a friend who was in the hospital for a year because of a needle-stick. He still has liver problems,” says Basile. “The other officer who was in the hospital with him with a needle-stick injury didn’t go home.”
According to Basile, the people at AIDS Work approached him to get his endorsement before starting up an exchange program. Even though syringe exchange programs are legal in New York, they wanted police to be on board.
“The people starting the exchange wanted my endorsement because they felt the program would go more smoothly with police support. I was asked to serve on the planning committee as well. We talked about sites to do the exchange, how often to provide the program, how to dispose of dirty needles, and what other services to provide in addition to syringe exchange.”
Apart from benefits such disease reduction and prevention of needle-sticks to officers, Rick Basile was impressed with the harm reduction component of syringe exchange, in which other services, such as HIV testing and treatment, referral to drug treatment programs, and social services are offered to people who participate in syringe exchange.
“As part of the exchange, people received education and started to learn about the consequences of drug use. Services were available for people who wanted to quit.”
Rick Basile supports syringe exchange programs because “they work. The programs get needles off the streets and lower the spread of disease. And of course the biggest selling point to me is the reduction in needle-sticks of officers. Hepatitis is really dangerous.”
Rick Basile currently serves as Program Chair of the Criminal Justice Program at Edgecombe County College.
Event: Law Enforcement Safety & Drug Policy Summit
WHEN: June 12th, 2012
WHAT TIME IS THE EVENT: Registration starts at 8 am, and the event begins at 9 am and will go through Noon. A lunch will be served to registered guests after the summit.
WHERE: North Carolina Legislative Auditorium, 16 Jones Street, Raleigh, NC
WHO SHOULD ATTEND: Law Enforcement, Legislators, Legislative Support Staff, Public Health Officials, Lobbyists, Harm Reductionists, Drug Policy Reformers, Policy Reformers, People Who Work With Incarcerated Populations and the Substance Abuse Community
WHAT WILL BE COVERED: Law Enforcement Needlestick Reduction, Law Enforcement Safety around Drug Overdoses, Reducing Recidivism While Maintaining Public Order and Drug Policy Reform
WHO WILL BE PRESENTING: Law Enforcement Safety Experts, Law Enforcement, Drug Policy Experts and Republican & Democratic Legislators, and Conservative, Liberal & Moderate Policy Institutes
EVENT CONTACT: Robert Childs, MPH (336) 543-8050, firstname.lastname@example.org
Needlesticks On The Beat
An Essay by Former Policewomen Jen “Crash” Earls
As a patrol officer with the Chicago Police Department the unknown was the most dangerous enemy I ever faced. I dealt with it many times in my 8 years on the streets.
But often it wasn’t the unkempt woman slumped over the steering wheel of her car at the red light. It was a well-dressed young woman with seven used needles in her expensive purse, driving a posh Lexus.
The danger came from not knowing which woman was the most dangerous. The woman at the red light had slipped into a diabetic coma. She could have hurt many people but we removed her and got her some medical help. The woman driving the expensive Lexus was looking for Heroin and ran a red light in her desperation to score. While searching her purse, I stuck my finger on a syringe. It was one of the scariest moments of my career. I didn’t know the syringe was there, I didn’t know if she had HIV/AIDS or viral hepatitis B or C.
I was a young officer working in one of the worst districts in the city for drug use and violent crime. I didn’t tell anyone about my needlestick. I put hand sanitizer and a band-aid on my wound and went about my business. When I brought the arrestee back to the station, she was starting to get drug sick and there was paperwork to finish. There was a lot to do. I understood that there wasn’t time to stop and worry about a needlestick.
I didn’t understand then if I had any protections at all. I could have asked my Sergeant to fill out an exposure report. I would have had the needlestick on record at the Medical Section. I would have gotten tested and they would have offered me the prophylactic HIV/AIDS medication AZT to take for several months to decrease my risk of contracting the virus. It would have been a “big deal.” And no rookie cop wants to be a big deal in this way. Arrest a burglar, recover a kilo of dope maybe, but not because I got stuck with a dirty syringe.
When I first started, officers were expected to enforce Chapter 720 of Illinois State Statute 635/1, Illegal Possession of Hypodermic Instruments. By July of my first year, an addendum was added. Adults could purchase up to 20 needles from a pharmacy. If they carried 21 or more they needed to be enrolled in a syringe access program (a place where you can get sterile syringes and turn in your used ones) and carry an identification card. After the law change I rarely found dirty needles on searches or pat downs.
Knowledge is power. As an officer I knew a lot about the law. I knew about reasonable suspicion, probable cause and the subtle differences between misdemeanors and felonies. What I didn’t have was the feeling that my department supported my health or me. If they had, I would have known the proper protocol when I was stuck. If I had broken my hand or been in a car accident I knew what to do, but not if I was exposed to a potentially life-threatening illness like HIV or viral hepatitis B or C.
My department didn’t provide masks, gloves or first aid kits to officers working the streets. We had no training on how to recover or dispose of syringes or drug paraphernalia safely. I didn’t know the simple protocol to wash my injury with soap and water after a needlestick.
I believe a combination of harm reduction education programs that teach drug users on safer syringe use and biohazard storage plus syringe decriminalization makes a vast difference in the lives of law enforcement officers. I think officers need to know how to safely handle paraphernalia (such as drug cookers, pipes and tourniquets) and syringes. They need to know when to wear needlestick resistant gloves and when to take extra precautions.
Officers also need to know their health risks. They should know what diseases are on the streets and how to spot a person who is potentially ill. In realty this is everyone because you can’t tell who has an HIV infection or viral hepatitis by looking at him or her. They must understand how to keep themselves healthy. Officers also deserve to know the percentage they risk of contracting a disease every time they handle drug paraphernalia.
Law enforcement officers statewide warrant the additional safety that syringe decriminalization legislation can provide. Statistics have repeatedly proven that increased syringe access for the public does not increase crime or drug use. The facts are that law enforcement officers will encounter drug users and syringe carriers in the course of their jobs. This is especially prevalent in North Carolina where 1 in 12 people carry needles. There are approximately 50,000 injection drug users and around 700,000 diabetics. Officers will be put in positions where they need to search subjects. They will encounter syringes and drug paraphernalia and deserve to be able to do it safely. It therefore becomes necessary to make every attempt to create the safest conditions possible for both officers and users.
The evidence also shows that shows that law enforcement chances of getting a needlestick go down by 66% with syringe decriminalization. When the fear of arrest disappears, drug users are more likely to let an officer know they are carrying needles. This is why in states like New Mexico, who have partially decriminalized syringes, see around 66% less officer needlesticks than states that have criminalized syringes such as North Carolina.
The syringe decriminalization will also keep the users healthier. If they have the option of using fresh syringes rather than sharing dirty needles, their risk for contracting or distributing diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B and C goes down significantly. This simple idea keeps many people safer and healthier. Officers and their families will be at much less risk for contracting terminal and severe illnesses, since infection rates among drug users on the streets have been shown to diminish when clean needles are available.
In summary, I highly recommend that the state of North Carolina and its fellow southern states decriminalize syringes. It is necessary for both the health and safety of law enforcement officer’s and the public they protect and serve.