10 police safety tips for the 4th of July

The Independence Day holiday can increase exponentially the number of intoxicated knuckleheads you’re likely to encounter on your shift


Editor’s Note:

Editor’s Note: A couple of weeks ago we posted a column by Andrew Hawkes which shared some basic reminders about keeping safe during the hot days and nights of summer. If you haven’t yet seen it, now is not a bad time to review Hawkes’ 5 everyday safety essentials for summertime patrol. Last week, we posted an item from Tom Burrell about floodwater safety for cops, which also has some excellent reminders in the context of performing a water rescue, since many of our Independence Day celebrations take place near picturesque bodies of water. Stay safe this weekend!

The months of June, July, August, and September tend to bring out a wee bit more of ‘the crazy’ than is typically encountered in the ‘dead of winter’ or the mild months of autumn and spring. Triple digit temps and extended daylight hours just seem to bring out the mouth-breathing nut jobs with greater regularity. The summertime heat begets bar patrons on sidewalks for miscellaneous mayhem far more frequently than you’d find in February, and we’ve all seen more than one backyard barbecue turn into an inebriated brawl (or much worse). The Independence Day holiday in particular can increase exponentially the number of intoxicated knuckleheads you’re likely to encounter on your shift. The July 4th holiday also brings out vast volumes of low-grade explosives — factory-produced fireworks as well a smattering of the highly-hazardous homemade variety. Then there are those wonderful incidents of “celebratory” shots being fired into the air and bottle rockets being fired at passing cars.

“For most people, the 4th of July brings thoughts of family get together, fireworks, and fun,” said PoliceOne Contributor Duane Wolfe when I connected with him yesterday. “For the average cop who has to work the 4th it brings memories of drunken fights, domestics, and fireworks. Unfortunately, sometimes the fireworks are aimed at us. Until you have dodged a Roman candle or bottle rocket inadvertently — or purposely — aimed at you, you have not really experience the 4th of July.”

A number of our more senior LEOs will likely be off for Independence Day, entertaining friends and family and celebrating our great nation. Meanwhile, many others will be out there on patrol, keeping our communities safe despite the many dangers lurking in the shadows. Whether you’re on or off duty this weekend, we offer these reminders for July 4th safety, as well as some thoughts about the holiday as it relates to American policing. Please keep this in mind: According to ODMP, there have been a total of 81 police officers killed in the line of duty on Independence Day — dating back to 1866 — while countless others have been assaulted and injured. Compare that figure with 59 killed on July 3rd and 57 killed on July 5th during that same period.

This year, many Independence Day celebrations will span an entire “long weekend” so there will essentially be three consecutive days of potentially increased unsafe and/or criminal activity in Yourtown, U.S.A. Check out these 10 safety reminders, and add your own July 4th tips in the comments area below.

1.) Fireworks can be weapons. Don’t disregard that fact if you’re making contact with partiers.

2.) Drunk drivers can hit you, too — both while on patrol and when you’re off duty. Watch the road.

3.) The 4th can be hot. If you’re working, stay hydrated.

4.) Do the math: Lots of people + 4th of July consumption + heat = Recipe for disaster. Stay sharp. Remember that drinking and a charged up crowd can inspire some people to be more confrontational with police than they would normally be. Be ready for that.

5.)
Crowds can quickly get unruly during mass celebrations. Be smart and wait for back-up if you predict you might need it.

6.) Repeating #3, the 4th of July can be hot. Wear your vest anyway!

7.) Bone up on your holiday-specific first aid. Are you ready for first responder treatment of missing fingers, a variety of burns, a bottle rocket to the eye, alcohol poisoning, dehydration, etc.?

8.) Don’t forget your own kids. You likely caution others about the dangers of screwing around with fireworks (and other explosives), drunk driving, drinking too much, etc. Make sure your own kids are included in that discussion.

9.) Refresh yourself on water rescue protocol and procedures. Lots of people are in the water during the 4th weekend. Be ready if you’re called to a water-related incident.

10.) Make sure you’ve got a fire extinguisher in your car. With fireworks being lit, the potential for a fire is definitely there. If you’re prepared to act early, you can help avoid a bigger problem.

As PoliceOne Columnist Betsy Brantner Smith so eloquently wrote on this day back in 2009, “Consider using this 4th of July as your personal wake up call to re-commit yourself to being a sheepdog — an ever-watchful warrior always prepared for what we face now and in the future. As American law enforcement, we have an obligation to the men and women who fought and sacrificed to form this great nation, to our children and grandchildren who will carry on, and to our citizens who have the right to live freely and safely to continue to truly “serve and protect” to the very best of our ability. Enjoy the holiday, but remember its true significance, and the role that you have in maintaining the freedoms that we all enjoy.”

American Policing: Born the 4th of July
July 4th is not just the birthday of the United States of America — it is the birthday of American policing. Indeed, policing such as it’s done in the United States today never existed — in the entire history of the world! — before 1776. American police officers police within a system of checks and balances which insure that the policing in this country is a shining example of the freedom that our forefathers declared in that document and American servicemen secured with blood in every American War fought since.

“The Constitution,” PoliceOne Columnist Joel Shults told me yesterday as I prepared this article, “written and ratified well over a decade after independence was declared, laid a groundwork that rejected concentrated military power, and imposed checks and balances on centralized federal power. Redcoats would not keep the peace. Power to self-regulate would go to states and communities. I hope we never hear a call to federalize law enforcement as is the model of most other countries.”

At bare minimum, every officer in America is familiar with the First, Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution. It’s been an Independence Day tradition of mine for many years to re-read both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States — I have several copies of both documents and my treasured but tattered pocket version from the Cato Institute goes with me just about everywhere. Because the Twenty-First Amendment repeals the Eighteenth, I typically enjoy this July 4th ritual with a cold adult beverage on a coaster beside me.

Shults and I both believe that the modern-day LEO would have volunteered as Minutemen. “Not merely ready for the call, but aching for it,” Shults told me, and I absolutely agree with him. “Not just passionate about freedom, but trained to gain and hold it. Not fighting just to get through the day, but fighting for generations yet unborn. Not just saluting the flag, but carrying it into battle. Not just pledging allegiance, but devoting our lives and fortunes and sacred honor to the cause of peace as free citizens.”

The redcoats of today — be they violent offenders, digital predators, or politicians who would abuse power — are still in the business of selfishly robbing others of their God-given liberty. Who can stand in the gap to protect the weak and ignorant and powerless but those who are appointed and empowered by the people to do so? The armed government agent is like a fire in that we can be the means of survival of our nation and its communities or their destruction. The Constitution is still the guide that keeps men of arms as friends and not tyrants.

My American flag is always displayed (well illuminated at nighttime) in front of my house, and I’ve taught my toddler son to always salute it. I strongly suspect that if you’re reading this, you can say something similar.

“A police officer must never stand casually in the presence of the stars and stripes,” Shults explained as we discussed this column. “Stand in reverence and salute your flag. For the police officer it symbolizes more than a collection of states linked together. It is more than history and more than somber ceremony. It is a picture of what we do and who we are. We stand shoulder to shoulder with those who have been in combat beneath it. When a flag waves in the wind it is saluting us in thanks for keeping it lifted high.”

American law enforcers are, quite understandably, a patriotic bunch. Editors of police websites (read: yours truly) are equally patriotic. Happy Birthday to the United States of America, and Happy Birthday to the red, white, and thin blue line!

About the author

Doug Wyllie is Editor in Chief of PoliceOne, responsible for setting the editorial direction of the website and managing the planned editorial features by our roster of expert writers. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 800 feature articles and tactical tips on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA). Even in his "spare" time, he is active in his support for the law enforcement community, contributing his time and talents toward police-related charitable events as well as participating in force-on-force training, search-and-rescue training, and other scenario-based training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.

Read more articles by PoliceOne Editor in Chief Doug Wyllie by clicking here.

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