AP Photo/Springfield News-Sun, Marshall Gorby
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Over the last several years, medical tactics and equipment for law enforcement officers have become increasingly hot topics. Before this phenomenon, those few officers who carried medical gear on duty were often SWAT medics who carried off-the-shelf civilian EMS products, and only a few trainers were presenting medical treatment classes at law enforcement conferences. Nowadays, manufacturers specifically market numerous “tactical medical” products to all officers regardless of assignment, and nearly all well-known training companies include law enforcement medical classes in their course catalogs.
Dramatic improvements in military medical training and equipment in the last 20 years have been a guiding force in law enforcement medical training. Unfortunately, no one attempted to research whether or not military combat injuries and deaths are comparable to those in domestic law enforcement. Likewise, traditional civilian EMS training and equipment may also not be entirely applicable to law enforcement scenarios.
Although the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s yearly Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) data is in many ways helpful, it doesn’t go far enough to make complete conclusions regarding the medical training and equipment needs of law enforcement officers. Despite the best of intentions by many trainers, there hasn’t been enough relevant data collected and analyzed regarding the applicability and need for various training and gear. How do we separate fact from fiction and real-world experiences from a product sales pitch?
The VALOR Project
The answer may lie in the efforts of Dr. Matthew Sztajnkrycer, who’s the chairman of emergency medicine research at the Mayo Clinic and Medical Director for the Rochester (Minn.) Police Department and the Rochester/Olmsted County Emergency Response Unit. Dr. Sztajnkrycer is also an advisor to the well-known Force Science Research Center. In 2008, Dr. Sztajnkrycer launched the Violence Against Law Officer Research (VALOR) Project.
Filling the void left by the LEOKA and military combat casualty studies, the mission of the VALOR Project is to “empower officers and save lives through evidence-based research.” In order to accomplish this goal, the VALOR Project collects and analyzes data and reports the evidence through quarterly statistics and related research papers on such topics as downed officer rescue and medical treatment of injured officers.
The primary tool used by the VALOR Project is the Law Enforcement Near-Miss Database (LENMDB). The LENMDB is an online data collection service similar to the National Firefighter Near-Miss Reporting System, which collects information regarding firefighter deaths and injuries. Near miss is defined for this purpose as “any event which had the potential to result in officer death, including those that resulted in life-threatening injuries, as well as those that resulted in minor or no injuries.”
Even personnel with limited knowledge of a near-miss can go to the VALOR Project website, click on the near-miss database link on the left side of the page and complete the survey. Answering as many of the questions with as much detail as possible helps to ensure the greatest research value. All identifying information is removed from the near-miss report to keep the submission confidential.
The data culled from the reports is reviewed by the LENMDB review committee, which currently comprises Dr. Sztajnkrycer and 13 recognized professionals in law enforcement training, emergency medicine and law enforcement tactical operations. General summary data is posted quarterly on the VALOR Project website for viewing and training recommendations.
The summary data from the fourth quarter of 2010 included 37 reported cases from agencies of all sizes and jurisdiction types. As would be expected, most officers in the data were working a one-officer unit at the time. Investigations into suspicious persons, traffic violations and domestic disputes were the most common types of reported incidents. Sadly, self aid and buddy aid weren’t used in the majority of these cases despite the reported severe or critical nature of most of the injuries. This point illustrates the need for continued advancements in the area of self- and buddy-aid training.
In contrast to statistics from the FBI and National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), only two of the incidents reported involved motor vehicles, while 24 involved shootings. Additionally, downed officer rescue was reportedly performed in 75% of incidents reported. These results appeared to highlight inaccuracies that were attributed to the low number of reports in this summary and a phenomenon Dr. Sztajnkrycer describes as “hindsight bias,” in which only certain types of incidents, such as tactical situations, were reported, instead of the more common and sometimes less dramatic events that would also be defined as near-misses.
Dr. Sztajnkrycer has funded the VALOR Project out of his own pocket—rather than seeking funding by any commercial interests—to keep the research and recommendations as unbiased as possible.
The success of the VALOR Project depends on officers everywhere to report near misses on the website. Spread the word about the Law Enforcement Near-Miss Database to other officers, trainers and agencies. Doing so will help the VALOR Project to get the most accurate results possible, and to provide fact-based, lifesaving information to officers, trainers and agencies. Ultimately, this program, in conjunction with Law Officer’s Below 100 initiative, stands to change our culture—so that more cops go home at the end of their shifts.
Check out www.ValorProject.org or find the VALOR Project on Facebook for more information.
According to VALOR Project data, self and buddy aid weren’t employed in the majority of traumatic officer injuries. Also, because of what Dr. Sztajnkrycer terms “hindsight bias,” the preponderance of reported incidents involve shootings. The lesson: Events that are more common and less dramatic—like motor vehicle accidents—tend to go underreported, even though they’re just as deadly.
Share Your Experience
The VALOR Project depends on officers sharing near-miss experiences. If you know of or have personally experienced an event that could have killed or seriously injured you or other officers, please report it. Names and departments will be redacted for anonymity. Remember: The more we know, the more we can prepare! www.ValorProject.org Become a friend on Facebook by searching “VALOR Project.”