Car Accidents: The new, disturbing trend in law enforcement
To understand how to better protect our law enforcement personnel, we must first examine the circumstances surrounding those who have been killed in the line of duty. Preliminary data shows that there were two primary causes of death this past year. Fifty-seven of the officers were shot to death, and 51 died in automobile accidents.
There is a more disturbing trend hidden in these numbers, though. Many more officers than ever before are dying in car accidents. Consider, for example, that while shooting deaths have declined by 36 percent over the past three decades, the number of officers killed in automobile accidents during that same period has risen by 40 percent. Between 1975 and 1984, there were 339 officers killed in auto accidents, compared to 476 who died behind the wheel in the most recent 10-year period (1995-2004).
Better driver training for law enforcement personnel is an essential component to stemming this dangerous trend. A study several years ago showed that some law enforcement agencies were providing no high speed driver training for their officers, while still others were providing only a bare minimum. Policies governing high speed pursuits have received careful scrutiny in recent years and further reflection is necessary to determine when it is appropriate for officers to chase after fleeing automobiles, and what less dangerous options might exist.
Safer automobiles will also make an important difference. Fire prevention products and equipment in law enforcement vehicles need to be used more to reduce the risk of fires caused by a crash. Improved safety restraint systems that are both practical and effective should also be considered so that officers are given maximum protection in the event of an accident.
Stepped-up measures in each of these areas can go a long way toward reducing deaths and injuries among the men and women who protect our communities. Ultimately, though, it will be up to the practitioners, the trainers and the policy-makers to determine the best ways to improve law enforcement safety. In the meantime, we must do all that we can to honor and remember the officers who made the ultimate sacrifice and their families.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund would like to encourage anyone who would like to leave a message of condolence for the families and friends of those killed in the line of duty in 2004 to do so at www.nleomf.com. Kind and supportive words for those in need are a very fitting way to begin the new year. They also send a clear message that we highly value and always remember the extraordinary service and sacrifice of our nation's law enforcement heroes.