For the first time since 1962, the United States did not experience a single line of duty death of a police officer in the first week of a new year. But on January 10, we lost two Puerto Rican law enforcement officials in a terrible crash during a prisoner transport in bad weather near Stillwater (Okla.).
That month, a Tennessee trooper was killed in a one-car crash that apparently caused a fatal heart attack, and a California patrol officer was shot during a close-quarter contact with a suspect during a burglary investigation.
Things got no better from there on, as February saw 14 officers make the ultimate sacrifice. We had double-digit LODDs every month from March to April to May (10, 11, and 10, respectively).
Fortunately, June brought a welcome drop in officer deaths, with three, and in July we suffered the loss of four of our fellow officers.
Honoring the Fallen
We have passed well through the midway point of 2013 — as of Wednesday, July 31 (the day this article posts on PoliceOne) — we stand at 58 police officer line-of-duty deaths. That is down two percent from last year (on this day one year ago, that number was 60).
As always, we honor our fallen best by learning from them, so what can we garner from these sobering facts?
1.) Improve Your Heath: We’ve already lost eight officers to heart attacks. They range in age from their 20s to their 60s. Heart problems are not just about age and fitness; we must also consider genetics, stress, and other factors.
The lessons: calm down, eat right, work out, get regular physicals, and know your family history.
2.) Become a Safer Driver: We drive too fast, we get distracted, we don’t wear our seatbelts, and we don’t make allowances for roadway conditions. We must become better drivers — we must train on the track as much as we train on the range.
We’ve got to practice calming techniques, reduce distractions when we can (put down your coffee and turn off your cell phone and your music during a “code” run!) and practice getting in and out of that seatbelt so we’re more inclined to wear it 100 percent of the time.
3.) Lose the “Routine” Mindset: We rush in. We don’t do our homework. We allow “routine” to de-train us.
We’ve got to stop thinking we can predict the behavior of the human animal. In fact, we must see people as the most unpredictable creatures on the planet and plan accordingly.
Just because a subject has no criminal record, or you’ve dealt with them a hundred times in the past, never assume you know how they are going to act or react. Watch their hands, eyes and body movements, but get past the preposterous notion that you can predict someone’s behavior by “reading” them. See each encounter as a unique event.
4.) Practice Vigilance: Accept the fact that criminals are bringing the fight to us. We’re being actively ambushed sitting in our patrol cars or responding to fake 911 calls.
We’re also being targeted off duty and at home for retaliation, either because of a specific grievance by a madman or just because we wear a badge and a gun. Prepare yourself and your family for off-duty encounters. Remember, it’s not paranoia, it is preparation.
Stop worrying about “survival” and start planning to WIN. Train on self aid and buddy aid, and make sure you have the right first aid gear.
Carry a backup gun and a tactical knife. Put the shock plate back in your vest. Visualize getting shot or stabbed or punched and finishing the fight and winning the encounter.
As we teach in “The Winning Mind,” don’t just win the gunfight, win the whole event!
Honor our fallen, and celebrate our winners. Always remember that police officers are out there everyday overcoming the odds and prevailing against evil. Be the hunter, not the hunted.
Let’s make the second half of 2013 the safest ever.
Let’s say “Not Today!” to line of duty deaths.