The call from a co-worker came in the evening and the person calling didn’t normally call during off-hours. Not a good sign. She said there’d been an accident and an officer had been seriously injured. I was responsible for hiring the officer. Both the caller and I felt a special closeness to him.
As she talked, I tried to hear something reassuring. After all, the guy was relatively young, he was in pretty good shape and he always wore his vest and helmet (he was assigned to motors). The accident didn’t sound terribly bad. He’d struck a raised center island during a special detail providing traffic control. I tried to assure the caller that things were probably going to be OK and then left for the hospital.
When I arrived at the ER, there were already a lot of department people there. The officer’s mother, who we all knew because she volunteered to help traumatized victims, arrived soon after I did. Everyone waited in the small ER trying to be hopeful and sharing what they knew. A fellow officer who’d been at the scene said Billy had zoomed around a line of stopped cars to provide traffic control at an intersection. He struck a raised center island and was thrown from his motorcycle. It was just past dusk and the combination of speed, limited visibility and the somewhat limited illumination of his motorcycle headlamp probably meant he never saw the raised concrete that abruptly stopped his forward momentum and caused his body to be thrown violently forward.
When the ER physician came out and saw the large group of coworkers, he was visibly taken aback. When he saw Billy’s mother, someone he knew because she’d helped with countless grief-stricken relatives in that very same ER, he slowly shook his head as it all came together. The broken body of the motor officer was the son of the woman who had frequently helped with grieving families. She’d often told him about her son, the police officer.
The doctor teared up and said words that somehow conveyed the situation without really saying that Billy was dead. He looked at Billy’s mom and said, “Not you, not you. I’m so sorry. We really tried.” I’ll never forget that terrible, surrealistic moment when I realized that someone so full of life and so special would never take another breath, never tell another joke and never proudly protect another school zone.
At the age of 30, Officer William Robert Jack was dead.
Dealing with Death
Cops deal with more death than anyone should have to. We see it raw, and the images sear themselves into the brain. The lifeless body of a toddler lying in the stagnant water of an unused swimming pool. The accident victim who took a few raspy last breaths and tried to say something about his family, only to be drowned out by the siren of an approaching fire truck. The elderly woman who died watching The Price is Right and remained in her chair staring at the TV until her neighbors complained about the smell. Sometimes, the job sucks.
No doubt, death is the great equalizer and a fact of life. But when it comes to line of duty deaths, like that of Officer William Jack, they are not a given. That’s exactly why we launched Below 100. The mission is simple: Reduce the number of LODD’s to less than 100 per year. The number of officers who die in vehicle accidents and preventable incidents is absolutely unacceptable, and it won’t change until we acknowledge certain realities. Many cops drive too fast. Some don’t wear seat belts. A significant number don’t wear body armor. Way too many get themselves killed or seriously injured when they become complacent or lose their focus.
Below 100 has already inspired some agencies to rethink current policies and practices. We can accomplish this goal, and we must. The changes that are needed are doable and will result in lives saved. We can’t eliminate those terrible calls where good people die. But we can do something about the number of officers who are dying by just embracing common sense. Take a stand and set the standard for others by commiting to Below 100. Check out
http://www.LawOfficer.com/Below100 for some powerful insights from great trainers and for a compelling poster that you can download for free for the briefing room or your locker.
—Dale Stockton, Editor in chief
A special Below 100 training session will be presented at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 20. Additional Law Officer training sessions will be ongoing, Jan. 17–20. For more info and to register, visit www.shotshow.org/leep.