As we end 2012, the names of our fallen will be forever memorialized. These are the names that will be inscribed on the National Memorial. We will light candles and we will weep with our brothers and sisters—often people we’ve only just met—but who are no less our brothers and sisters by virtue of their shared experience.
It’s our duty to honor the fallen, and I attend Police Week each year to remember their sacrifice with others. But I believe that the greatest honor we can bestow upon those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice is more than public ceremony: Memorials serve as reminders of a higher duty to our profession. As we face the New Year, we must now revisit our dead and ask of each case: Was this preventable? If so, what can we do to ensure that it never happens to another officer?
Where We Stand
At the time this was written, 2012’s line-of-duty death toll was 115. Of those, 49 were killed in vehicle-related incidents and, 40 in gunfire-related incidents. An additional 12 officers died as a result of physical issues, ranging from heart attacks to heat exhaustion. The remainder died in a variety of ways including aircraft crashes, falls and friendly fire.
We’ll always have some level of loss due to the nature of the job. But as I review the LODDs this year, one thing is clear: There’s room for improvement in areas where officers are contributing to their own demise. These are areas that can be changed today.
Seatbelts work: but only if you wear them. Unbelievably, some officers still believe the Ninja assassin fairytale and think officer safety is improved by going without a seatbelt. This myth has killed more officers than all the bad guys put together. Did you know that more than 150 cops have died after being ejected from patrols cars since 1980? And 1,000s more have been seriously injured and crippled.
Body armor works: but only when it’s worn. Putting on a uniform should mean wearing body armor—always! A common theme in body armor saves: No warning of imminent danger and no opportunity to armor up before the shooting. Those who think they’ll have time to armor up before the big one are using fools logic. Tragically, we lost officers this year who would have been saved if they’d been wearing their armor.
Speed is absolutely deadly to cops: We need a major attitude adjustment in this area. For too long, we’ve heard the old joke, “Why do cops speed? Because they can!” But it’s just not funny anymore. You don’t help anyone if you crash on the way. Worse yet, too many of our collisions occur when officers aren’t even responding to a call. Primary collision factor? Speed.
An observation gained from reviewing dozens of these crashes: A disproportionate number that involve another vehicle are the result of other drivers turning into the officer’s path, unaware of the patrol car’s speed. If you must run hot, use all your emergency equipment, including your headlights, and be aware that others may not fully comprehend the speed of your oncoming vehicle.
Situational awareness saves lives: This is why Below 100 stresses the importance of W.I.N.—What’s Important Now? It reminds officers that complacency really does kill. During this past year, we’ve seen too many examples of officers who got in over their heads during both off- and on-duty confrontations.
Off-duty situations are especially dangerous and seldom turn out as expected. You’re working with fewer resources and usually don’t have ready access to body armor, backup or communications. An additional concern: You’ll almost always be subjected to greater scrutiny because of the off-duty aspect.
Physical conditioning is officer safety: In most years, heart attacks rank third (behind vehicles and gunfire) in killing officers. During this past year, we’ve had multiple losses due to heart attacks and such physical ailments as heat exhaustion. (For more on the importance of fitness, see October’s editorial, “Fit to Serve.” I heard from many that this should be mandatory reading.) Do your part to share the word.
Too many agencies get serious about one or more of the above areas after experiencing a loss. We must do better. Regardless of your position in the agency, ask yourself: Where are the chinks in the armor of our agency that are most likely to result in serious injury or death? As soon as you figure out the answer, do something! Each individual within the agency contributes to agency culture—that means you. We must honor the fallen by training the living. What will your contribution be?