Interview on Preventing Needle Sticks with Graham McKinnon, CEO of Protective Outfitters

Interview with Graham McKinnon, CEO of Protective Outfitters
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