Two weeks ago, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund released its annual mid-year report on police fatalities, and the news was, as my friend and PoliceOne colleague Travis Yates put it in a recent blog post, “a mixed bag.” On the positive side, traffic-related police fatalities are down 17 percent from last year. In the first six months of 2010, there were 42 officers killed in automobile incidents — this year that number is 35 officers in the same time period.
That’s good news indeed — and may reflect both an increase in effectiveness in automobile safety equipment as well as an increased focus on officer safety in EVOC training — but that one statistic is pretty much where the good news in the NLEOMF report ends.
Despite the relative decline in automobile-related fatalities, officer deaths overall have increased 14 percent this year over last, with 98 officers killed from January 1, 2011 to June 30, 2011, according to preliminary data from NLEOMF. Recall that last year saw an incredible increase of officer deaths (162 American law enforcers were killed in the line of duty in 2010) from the previous year, due in part to the fact that the 117 law enforcement officers killed in 2009 represented the lowest annual total since 1959.
In the two weeks since the release of the NLEOMF report, another ten officers have been killed in the line of duty, bringing the total at the time of this writing to 108.
According to ODMP, the average age for officers killed in the line of duty so far in 2011 is 40 years of age and the average tour of duty is 12 years, 3 months. One officer was killed due to each of the following: aircraft accident, beating, electrocution, falls from a height, bomb blast, crushed, and strangled. Below are the numbers as of the moment I completed this column:
• Aircraft accident: 1
• Animal related: 1
• Assault: 4
• Automobile accident: 24
• Drowned: 2
• Duty-related illness: 5
• Explosion: 1
• Fall: 1
• Gunfire: 44
• Gunfire (Accidental): 2
• Heart attack: 7
• Motorcycle accident: 3
• Struck by vehicle: 3
• Training accident: 1
• Vehicle pursuit: 3
• Vehicular assault: 5
• Weather/Natural disaster: 1
Clearly, it’s sometimes the least expected threat that takes your life. In fact, the above list reminds me of the column I did at the close of 2009 on the many “unexpected” ways in which officers died in the first decade of the 21st Century. However, as one might “expect” to be the case, traffic- and firearms-related fatalities accounted for the vast majority — 77 percent! — of all law enforcement fatalities in the first half of 2011.
Firearms Deaths at a 20-Year High
The most striking single piece of data — at least in my view — in the recently-released NLEOMF report was that in the “first half of 2011, firearms-related fatalities reached a 20-year high, with 40 officers killed by gunfire — a 33 percent increase from that same point in 2010, when only 30 officers were fatally shot.” Four officers have been shot to death in the two weeks between the release of the NLEOMF report and my completion of this column.
A report from USA TODAY concluded that “if fatal shootings continue at the current rate, gunfire-related deaths would represent the primary cause of officer fatalities this year.”
The increase in firearms-related deaths — and for that matter, firearms-related injuries — to police officers in the first six months of 2011 is partially attributable to the continued trend we see in so-called “multiple-fatality, cluster-killing” incidents. Three such events have happened thus far in 2011 — two in Florida and one in Virginia. Further, we’re still seeing a sickening number of ambush-style attacks on our law enforcers. In that USA TODAY article, Bernard Melekian, director of the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Police Services, said that “the number of officers killed in apparent ambushes ‘are a concern to me’.”
Perhaps more infuriating is the fact — okay, presently not a “fact” per se, but an opinion (until such time as hard statistical data on it is available) — that police training budgets continue to be slashed across the country. NLEOMF Chairman Craig Floyd even touched on this in the press release announcing the availability of the mid-year report. “The economy has forced reductions in training, safety equipment and personnel at law enforcement agencies across America,’ said Floyd. “These budget cuts have put our officers at greater risk, especially as they face a more brazen, cold-blooded criminal element...”
There is plenty that can be done to help mitigate the upward trend we’ve seen thus far in 2011. First and foremost, we must fight to keep training out from underneath the budget axe. While there is not a lot that can be done to prepare for certain ambush attacks, there is certain training available to counter an ambush and increase our chances of winning such a deadly confrontation. The fact that much of this training now falls on the shoulders of the individual officer — due to the abovementioned department budget cuts — is a whole different discussion for an entirely different day.
Look Sharp, Feel Sharp, Be Sharp
Today’s parolees are simply prisoners serving out their terms amongst us — and we all know that prison is the violator’s training facility—their “finishing school” for committing violent offenses when they get out. One has to remember at all times that the most important thing to those prisoners “in the joint” is appearance. The prisoner who appears slovenly, unkempt, and ‘weak’ is the one who is most likely to be targeted.
Similarly, the cop whose Sam Brownes are actually brown — not polished and black — may be perceived by the criminal element as being potentially a ‘beatable target.’ The cop whose physical fitness does not appear to be an issue to him or her is opening themselves up to potential attack from violent predators who work out relentlessly and have no interest whatsoever in anything resembling a fair fight.
Maintain Condition Yellow
Continuing the analogy of violator’s finishing school, the prisoner who appears to have diminished situational unawareness is equally likely to become a victim. Police officers “must maintain a heightened state of situational awareness in all we do when wearing that uniform,” said my friend and colleague Glenn French in a PoliceOne column back in April of this year.
“When an officer loses the heightened state of situational awareness they are more vulnerable to attack. Simply because making correct tactical decisions when confronted with an assault requires you to process through the OODA Loop. That may only take a fraction of a second, but that may be all your adversary needs to strike first. At a minimum, such a state of mind can contribute to factors which could lead to a violent attack,” French wrote.
The ‘Conspiracy of Safety’
Criminals behind bars are constantly conspiring — against one of their own, against one of the Correctional Officers / Deputies on the block, or against future targets of their criminal enterprise when they get out (and, it seems, they ALWAYS get out).
Well, at the beginning of this violent year my friend and colleague Dave Smith — who serves as the Senior Street Survival Seminar Instructor and the Director of Video Training for the Calibre Press Training Network — wrote about what he calls the ‘Conspiracy of Safety.’
“We tend to think of ‘conspiring’ as plotting an act of evil in secret,” Smith wrote, “and that is one of the meanings of the word. But the root of the word ‘conspire’ means literally ‘to breathe together.’ Just you and me, breathing safety together — you taking care of you, me taking care of me — we will do this day-to-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute, consciously thinking of the risks we face and overcoming them one at time, each time they appear.”
In that column Smith coined the mantra, ‘Not today, not on this shift, not on this call, not on this stop — I will not be caught unaware!’
“On every building search, field interview, alarm call, domestic, accident with injuries on a busy roadway, whatever you’re doing, you must think, ‘Not today, not now, I will not be caught unawares!” wrote Smith.
It bears repeating: “Not today!”
This has been widely adopted by many cops — the image above and left, for example — and it’s my hope that at this mid-year inflection point we intensify our commitment to Smith’s sage advice. So, if you haven’t seen his excellent column on this concept, I encourage you to check it out now. In fact, while you’re at it, check out Betsy Brantner Smith’s follow-up column on the topic.
Stay Safe Out There
As always, everyone here at PoliceOne is dedicated to doing everything we can to ensure your increased safety and enhanced success on the street. We’ll redouble our efforts in the collection and presentation of information that can help you in ways large and small. If you see something we should pass along to your fellow-LEOs, please don’t hesitate to send me an email.
Finally, I want to take this opportunity to specifically thank ODMP Founder Chris Cosgriff and NLEOMF Chairman Craig Floyd (as well as the teams of people at those two organizations) for their continued hard work in tracking and reporting this data.