For the last year, I’ve had the privilege of being involved in the Below 100 campaign, which I believe is the most important law enforcement initiative in two decades. Other respected leaders immediately jumped on including renowned risk manager Gordon Graham, PoliceOne Contributors Chief Jeff Chudwin and Brian Willis, PoliceOne Editor in Chief Doug Wyllie, , and many others. National Organizations did not hesitate and the Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS), Dyneema, and the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP) quickly signed on.
Despite that momentum, there has been some resistance to the program from individuals and organizations. I’ve heard several concerns, but I will address the top two criticisms and I will provide evidence from just the last month in response.
It Needs to Be Zero
Some have asked, “Why 100? That number needs to be zero!”
John Bostain, the 2012 ILEETA Trainer of the Year, even had a student get very upset at him because of this. I’m sure John handled it in a professional manner, but let me be a little more blunt. If you believe that in 2012 America there will be a year with no line of duty deaths then you are seriously naïve.
Would I like it to be zero? Of course, but what I want and what reality looks like is not always the same. Without even looking at the entire year of 2011 or this year, let’s just look at the month of May.
• On May 1st, Maricopa County (Ariz.) Deputy David Wargo died from head injuries that occurred nine years ago when he was dragged by a vehicle upon making contact because of a parking violation. On this same day, Pearl (Miss.) Officer Michael Walter was shot and killed serving a search warrant.
• On May 18th, Oklahoma Department of Corrections Officer Jeffrey McCoy went to a home to conduct a pre-release supervision check. He encountered a man not the focus of his investigation who immediately attacked him and ultimately shot and killed him.
• On May 28th, Englewood (Colo.) Officer Jeremy Bitner made a traffic stop and, while out of his vehicle, a drunk driver ran him over and killed him.
I just outlined three line of duty deaths in one month that each contain common law enforcement practices and that in all likelihood the officer involved did everything right to avoid tragedy and it happened anyway.
I don’t like those facts but the facts are the facts and one important fact is that our law enforcement officers are working in one of the most violent times in American history. All you have to do to see this is to look at the aggravated assault rate in our country. While the homicide rate is down because of the advancement in medical technology and delivery, the assault rates tell the real story and this is the environment that American Law Enforcement works in.
Do real heroes exist? You better believe they do because knowing all of that there remains a long line of candidates that want to wear the badge. Line of duty deaths will never be zero but that is no excuse to not do everything we can to prevent tragedy — which brings me to the second concern some have expressed.
Below 100 Is Not Possible
Some have said this since the campaign started. To those that believe it, I say it’s time to go. We don’t need that careless attitude anymore. It is that attitude that promotes a culture that accepts unnecessary tragedy and we have had our share of it.
Once again, to prove that Below 100 will happen, I will not even look at 2011 or this entire year. Let’s just take a look at the last 30 days.
• On May 20th, Cleveland (Tenn.) Officer Justin Maples died in a one vehicle crash. His car left the roadway and struck a telephone pole.
• On May 26th, New York Trooper Amanda Anna also died in a single vehicle crash. Her Tahoe lost control on a curve, struck a guardrail and overturned several times.
It is important to note that it is entirely too early to know the type of details that would be needed to determine whether the deaths of Officer Maples and Trooper Anna could have been prevented and at this point the pain is far too recent to even discuss it. But one thing is clear: close to half of all vehicle fatalities involve just the officer’s vehicle.
We also know that in approximately half of all vehicle fatalities, the officer was not wearing a seatbelt. When you combine those facts with the 30 percent of officers over the last two years who died from gunfire while not wearing ballistic vests, you understand very quickly that Below 100 will happen if just a few behaviors are changed.
The Past Dictates the Future
In 1973 we lost 269 officers in the line of duty and that was followed by a loss of 279 in 1974. I’m certainly thankful that when it was suggested that we could reduce line of duty deaths to well below 200 by pursuing ballistic vest technology and training that the naysayers were ignored.
Many law enforcement leaders and organizations stepped up and said that enough was enough and our profession is safer today because of their hard work.
For the naysayers in 2012 that say that Below 100 isn’t possible or they don’t like the concept because it should be zero, I say to ignore them. We overcame it three decades ago and succeeded. Below 100 will happen whether they want to get on board or not.
The Below Initiative began out of a conversation with several notable instructors at ILEETA 2010. The first “Train the Trainer” Course occurred at ILEETA 2011 and today the program has taught thousands of officers across the United States. Below 100 is a Tax-Exempt Non-Profit Organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the United States IRS Code.