The role of the emergency services at the crime scene

In emergency situations where medical and legal interests coincide, such as at crime scenes, unique challenges arise for emergency services and law enforcement. Mutual understanding of responsibilities and priorities can be crucial for the outcomes for both the patient and the subsequent criminal investigation.

Context of Intervention at Crime Scenes

Initial Priorities of Law Enforcement

Upon arrival at a crime scene, law enforcement’s first task is to secure the scene. This includes mitigating any immediate threats and protecting everyone present—civilians, police officers, and other responders like firefighters and EMS personnel—from potential harm. Safety is paramount and often performed before any other action, including medical care.

Actions of EMS Personnel

Once the police have secured the scene, medical responders can enter to attend to the victims. Priority first aid often includes hemorrhage control using direct pressure or tourniquets. However, medical care must be carefully balanced with the need to preserve the integrity of the scene and forensic evidence.

Differences and Coordination Between Services

Differences in the responsibilities of EMS and the police can create tensions. Medical professionals focus on saving lives, while the police have the additional task of protecting the crime scene for future investigations. Clear communication and understanding of priorities can significantly improve scene management.

Procedures and Responsibilities

Treatment of the Crime Scene

General Considerations

  • Scene Identification: Medical responders should treat any reported incident location as a potential crime scene, which includes accidents, suicides, or violent acts.
  • Evidence Preservation: It is crucial to minimize disturbance of the scene and document any contact or movement of objects.

Specific Protocols

  • Entry and Exit: Use a single route to enter and exit the scene.
  • Rigorous Documentation: Record everything that is touched or altered during medical care.

Role of Police in Care and Evidence Collection

  • Securing the Scene: Includes delimiting the area with tape and monitoring witnesses and evidence.
  • Cooperation with Medical Personnel: Facilitate medical work without compromising the investigation.

Evidence Collection by EMS

  • Handling Evidence: Items such as medications must be handled with extreme care and documented properly.
  • Clothing Precautions: Avoid cutting through areas that may contain evidence such as blood or gunshot residues.

Importance of Proper Documentation

Accurate and unbiased documentation is vital. It should include victim and witness statements, detailed observations of the scene, and any interventions made. This documentation can be key in crime investigation and prosecution.

Clinical and Legal Impact

Proper management of a crime scene affects not only medical outcomes but also legal ones. The effectiveness in medical care and documentation can significantly influence the judicial process and, thereby, the emotional recovery of victims.


The interaction between emergency medical services and law enforcement at crime scenes is complex but crucial. Effective collaboration and a deep understanding of shared responsibilities are fundamental for success in both patient care and the preservation of essential evidence for criminal justice.

Price TG, O’Neill RM. EMS Crime Scene Responsibility. [Updated 2020 Oct 28]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: