I was sitting at my desk, starting to write an article for PoliceOne detailing the loss of eight American police officers — and one in neighboring Canada — in the first 17 days of the New Year when I received word from several friends in Ohio that a Cleveland patrol officer had been shot. He was hit in the leg with a Mac 9 as he rolled up to talk to a subject shortly after midnight of January 20th. We were given the details of the shooting and were relieved that the officer was not gravely wounded. Later that same day, we received countless text messages and emails as we followed the events in Florida that eventually lead to the death of two Miami-Dade detectives who had been shot and killed — a third detective was wounded — during an attempted warrant service.
I remember thinking, “What the hell?! Could this month get any worse?!”
We tend to think of 'conspiring' as plotting an act of evil in secret. But fundamentally, the word 'conspire' means 'to breathe together.' We must agree to make safety our number one aim — our shared conspiracy. Think to yourself, "I won't be caught unaware!"
On Sunday morning, January 23rd, a young Indianapolis Metro PD officer was shot in the chest, thigh, and face during a traffic stop. He would not survive. About four o’clock in the afternoon in Detroit, a shotgun-wielding man barged into a precinct station, wounding four officers before being shot and killed by the precinct personnel. An hour or so later, two Kitsap County, Washington deputies were shot outside of a Port Orchard Wal-Mart store — a third deputy responded and killed the shooter. In the evening, we learned that a deputy made traffic stop in Lincoln City, Oregon and was shot and critically wounded by an offender who fled and was still at large.
We went to bed a bit numb that evening, and woke up Monday morning to the word that word that two St. Petersburg (Fla.) officers had been gunned down and a U.S. Deputy Marshal wounded in a fugitive investigation.
Fourteen cops shot in four days, five are dead, and several remain hospitalized. While we were all reeling from the firearms attacks, a Sumter, S.C. police officer was killed in a vehicle crash after a prisoner transport. An Ohio police officer lost his 31-year battle with the gunshot wounds he received in 1979 while attempting to arrest two teenagers.
“What the Hell?!” The “War on Cops” appeared to be in full swing.
In the immediate aftermath, even the mainstream media took note. Unless there are multiple officers killed, “unusual” circumstances, or the police did something really wrong, officer-involved shootings remain largely a local news story, but not this past week. However, the story quickly died, and one of the major cable outlets ran a story minimizing law enforcement’s losses by using statistics to show that police work isn’t as dangerous as other professions, such as coal mining, agriculture, and commercial fishing. And it’s true — all of those jobs are more statistically more risky than heading out on patrol in Anytown, USA.
But here’s the difference: No one is looking to ambush a coal miner. Commercial fishermen are the hunters, not the prey, and for the most part, the fish aren’t coming after them. My dad was a farmer, and I saw the dangers of agriculture firsthand, but only in Stephen King novels does the tractor actually turn on you and kill you.
I have a theory that the pundits — and very often even our citizens — don’t want to admit that we, the cops, are so vulnerable, because then they are vulnerable. If your average beat cop or detective or correctional officer is all that stands between them and an active shooter, a burglar, a rapist, a robber, and we are down and out of the fight, what happens to them? We are living largely in a culture of “the government will take care of us” and we, gang, are part of the government. That’s why your average citizen doesn’t take a harder stand against the ridiculous security procedures at our airports or fight actively against increasingly stricter gun laws. Our citizens like a sense of “security,” even if it’s a false one, and we’re here to provide it.
“Not Today!” Last week, Street Survival’s Senior Instructor (and my husband) Dave Smith asked all of us to enter into a “conspiracy of safety” together. We’re going to “breathe this together, plan together, bring in others, and let it grow” Dave said. And it’s been growing. Our Facebook Fan Page and our emails and texts have been filled with messages from cops and their friends and family who have embraced the conspiracy.
They’ve brought the mantra, “Not Today” into roll call, onto the street. They’ve even made posters and put handwritten sticky notes in their patrol cars with “Not Today” underlined with an exclamation point! We really are entering into a conspiracy in this profession, regardless of department, assignment, shift, or even nation, we are in this together.
Of course, each of us is responsible for our individual safety and survival and for the decisions we make, like driving within our capacity, wearing our vest, keeping our mind and our skills sharp. But together we’re going to make sure everyone is involved, and that includes not just the cops, but the dispatchers, the records clerks, even the guys in vehicle services. We also need to make our family a part of our conspiracy. Ask them to remind you every day or night you leave for work to be ready, to be prepared, and say it together, “Not Today” before you head out. A kiss, a hug, and a prayer doesn’t hurt either. Remember, our beliefs help keep us strong and resilient.
This past week we lost two correctional officers, one in a wreck following a transport and one in a terrible assault by a prisoner. Seventeen American cops in 29 days. Honor their sacrifice, read their stories on the Officer Down Memorial Page and learn from each and every one of them. Resolve to stay strong, to fight this war, to conspire to keep yourself, your citizens, and each other safe. Conspire together, look each other in the eye, and say “Not Today.”
About the author
Sergeant Betsy Smith has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, retiring as a patrol supervisor in a large Chicago suburb. A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety's School of Staff and Command and a Street Survival seminar instructor for more than 9 years, Betsy is now a speaker, author and a primary PoliceOne Academy consultant. Visit Betsy's website at www.femaleforces.com.