This month I'll probably offend a few of you, challenge a lot of you and hopefully cause many to say, "Right on!" The subject is officer safety, something near and dear to every officer and their families. The problem is we've been talking and not doing for too long. It's time for a change, and the people reading this can make it happen you're involved, and you care about this profession.
First, a reality check: Despite significant improvements in training, body armor design and usage, vehicle safety and trauma care, we've been marking time when it comes to officer safety. With the tragic exception of Sept. 11, the annual number of line-of-duty deaths has hovered around 150, plus or minus 10 percent, for the past decade.
Many of you contribute to the problem, and that's just not acceptable. That's right, I'm saying you're part of the problem. When a rookie comes through training, the quickest way to get blacklisted is to demonstrate poor officer-safety habits. Things like inattention to subject movements or poor positioning. Yet many of you routinely do things every bit as dangerous. Before you assume I'm talking to someone else, look in the mirror. Do you:
When you objectively look at the cause of line-of-duty deaths, you quickly realize the majority could have been prevented with a greater commitment to the basics. Many of those basics are covered in the above questions.
Last month I wrote about the tragic assassination of Officer Dan Bessant, who was struck down by a teenage sniper's bullet. It's an unfortunate reality that we will suffer some casualties because of the nature of our job. In other words, some events remain beyond our control.
But look at the stories behind so many of the names on the Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. speeding to a call, struck at night while directing traffic, car and motorcycle accidents, electrocuted by a downed power line, overpowered by a prisoner and on and on. Just last month, a state trooper with a quarter-century of experience was killed on a traffic stop when he was shot twice in the chest. The trooper had been issued body armor but chose not to wear it.
We're all responsible adults here or we shouldn't be wearing a badge. We know how to avoid unnecessary risks, yet we continue to do so and allow others to do the same. Why? Because we're missing two fundamental parts of the safety equation: Holding each other accountable, and sharing experience from which others can benefit.
Peer pressure is the key to accountability. It's a great influencer in human behavior, and don't forget that you are one of those peers. You can influence the behavior of others and contribute to a mindset of safety. Set a good example and encourage others to do the same. If you're a supervisor, make safety part of the evaluation process with your subordinates. If you're a trainer, give examples during training of behavior that may be the norm but shouldn t be acceptable.
Now for the other part of the equation: sharing experiences. When's the last time you heard a veteran cop offer up a story of how they screwed up and almost paid dearly for it? Sound crazy? It shouldn't, because military pilots do this all the time. They know the mistakes they survive can benefit others, but only if they share the information. Trust me, this isn't easy, but one officer's close call is another officer's tragedy averted. Next time you find yourself saying, "That was close," take the story to briefing or, at the very least, share it with the FTO supervisor.
If you are serious about officer safety, help change our current culture. Save a life by doing your part.—Dale Stockton, editor