This may go down as the deadliest Christmas Eve in history for public safety. By the time most people were up and making their holiday plans, death had dealt a tragic blow to agencies in New York, Wisconsin and Texas.
The New York incident began with firefighters responding to a reported structure fire at 0530 HRS in the town of Webster. Shortly after arrival, they were ambushed and four were hit by gunfire. Two of the firefighters, Michael Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka, were killed. Two others were seriously wounded. Chiapperini was a police lieutenant for Webster and served as the department’s information officer. Kaczowka was an emergency dispatcher. Both were serving as volunteer firefighters. A Webster police officer who responded to the scene chased a suspect and exchanged gunfire with him. An armored vehicle was used to evacuate residents in the area.
In Texas, Bellaire PD officer Corporal Jimmie Norman was shot and killed while contacting a subject after a short chase and hit-and-run. Witnesses said he was trying to get the suspect to exit his vehicle when gunfire rang out and the officer went down. Other officers arriving on scene engaged the suspect in gunfire and wounded him.
In Wautosa, Wis., Officer Jennifer Sebena was found dead after she failed to answer her radio. Other officers began searching for her and at approximately 0500 HRS, a fellow officer found her near a fire station. She had been shot several times and was dead at the scene. No suspect information is known.
In light of these tragedies, it’s hard to believe it’s Christmas Eve, a time generally thought of as peaceful and full of joy. For the families of the fallen and their agencies, this day will forever be remembered with sadness.
For law enforcement, this brings the 2012 December death toll to eleven. December can be a particularly deadly month for our profession. Last year, 19 officers lost their lives, with five of them dying between December 26 and December 31.
Let’s take a moment to remember some of the officer safety basics that help ensure our officers make it home:
Use Contact and Cover. This simple technique has saved a lot of officers and when properly used, C&C minimizes the problem of complacency or distraction. The basic premise of C&C is this: One officer is primarily responsible for the contact and the second officer ensures the safety of the other officer and the scene.
Body armor works--but only if you wear it. We continue to lose officers in incidents that body armor would have made a difference, if only it had been worn. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll have advance warning so you can don your armor. This is the logic of a fool.
Passenger side approaches work and they save lives. Use them whenever possible.
Speed is deadly for cops. Watch your speed and arrive alive. You can’t help anyone if you don’t get there.
Seatbelts work, but only if you use them. Too many officers have died because they have ignored this most basic piece of safety equipment. Don’t let the myth of the Ninja Assassin dissuade you from wearing your belt!
Work through situations systematically and deliberately, continually invoking WIN (What’s Important Now?) along the way. Doing so will significantly increase your chance of survival. Do not run to your own death!
If you see something that puts you or others at risk, say something! You owe it to everyone to have that courageous conversation. Don’t wait, do it now.
Let’s turn this deadly trend around. Let’s close out this year without losing any more of our fellow officers!