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2013 in Review: Below 100 and the Boston Bombing

From the violence at the Marathon to the loss of peacemaker Nelson Mandela, this was a watershed year

The year 2013 started with the good news that 2012 saw only 120 officers killed in the line of duty — a 20-year low and an indication that officer deaths are on a steady decline. One of those deaths was a former student of mine, Officer Tom Decker of Cold Spring (Minn.) PD http://www.policeone.com/officer-down/6050888-Tom-Decker/.

At this writing there are 95 reported officers death for 2013. So far there has been a 12 percent reduction in overall officer deaths in the line of duty.

We may actually see line of duty deaths drop below 100 — that would be a first since the 1940s. 2013 has seen a 31 percent drop overall in deaths by gunfire. Vehicular deaths have declined by nine percent. So while there is a dramatic drop in officers’ death by gunfire and vehicle accidents, officers are still dying in other ways. 

The Enemy Within
In March, I received word that my article, “The day I put a gun to my head,” was a finalist for a Maggie Award for Best Article. 

Being named as a finalist was a great honor for me, but the purpose of the article was to draw attention to the problem of the often unseen and unreported or under-reported numbers of officers who commit suicide each year, a number that some estimate as high as three times the number of officers killed in the line of duty.

It is each of our responsibilities to do what we can to make ourselves as safe as possible, on and off the street. Being involved with Below 100 http://below100.com/, I am proud and optimistic in seeing the steady decline of officer duty deaths. Below 100 is about pointing out the behaviors that are unsafe and cost officers lives — driving fast just because we can, not wearing our available body armor and seatbelts.

We also need to guard against the silent enemy: complacency. Just as importantly, we need to guard against depression and job stress. 

Awards and Honors
Chuck Remsberg was also nominated for Best Web Column (he won the award). Law enforcement owes Chuck a debt of gratitude for his efforts in promoting and disseminating street-proven tactics that have kept tens of thousands of cops alive and safer since the 1980s — not too bad for a guy who’s never been a cop.

In April I made my annual trip to the 10th Annual International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) Conference http://www.ileeta.org/. This is a gathering of like-minded trainers who represent law enforcement training at its finest. We gather to exchange ideas, learn from one another and re-energize our commitment to keep training our officers to the best of our abilities to continue to reduce officer death and injury.

I was pleased to see an increase in classes on dealing with officer stress and psychological wellbeing. I think this reflects awareness and the beginnings of a cultural shift in dealing with those areas of concern. 

During ILEETA 2013 I got to see my friend and mentor, “Coach” Bob Lindsey, receive the Trainer of the Year award, an award that he has earned through his five decades of service and dedication to training officers around the country. There are few who have more caring and compassion for those that they teach than Coach.

Rocked by Boston Bombing
The conference was rocked by the news of the bombing at the Boston Marathon. This tragedy served to solidify our resolve to our mission of staying prepared for whatever situations can arise. 

The effects of good training were evidenced by the heroic actions of the officers and other first responders at the scene saving the lives of those horribly injured by the bombs’ blast, and by the diligent and thorough investigation that quickly identified the suspects and brought their terror to a quick end despite facing homemade explosives and gunfire. 

Unfortunately, it was during our week at ILEETA that we also learned of the death of M.I.T. PD Officer Sean Collier at the hands of the suspects, who robbed him of his sidearm and his life. For me the face of 2013 will not be of the suspects, but of Officer Sean Collier, badge #179, M.I.T. PD.

Farewell to Mandela
The top news story this year will most likely be the death of Nelson Mandela. Mandela spent over 25 years in prison for fighting against the engrained racism in South Africa. Through his efforts and the efforts of so many others, eventually apartheid was abolished, and Mandela became South Africa’s first black president.

One of the great fears in releasing him is what he would do. Rather than continue a bloody battle, he forgave his captors and worked with them to create a country that abolished the longstanding culture of apartheid.

Mandela could easily have been the voice for violence and retaliation; instead, he was the voice of reason, often at odds with the wishes of his political party. By taking the time to understand his enemy’s fears, he brought about great change.

Go Home Safe
Below 100 has had a part in changing the police culture and lowering the loss of life by police officers since its inception just a few years ago. PoliceOne continues to educate and inform officers on tactics¸ officer safety, and current law enforcement trends. 

My mission as a trainer and writer is to make those that I reach with my words are better prepared to meet the physical and mental hardships and trials they will face throughout their career. Your ultimate goal as a law enforcement officer should be to have a healthy and successful career, followed by a healthy and successful retirement.

Looking Ahead
This year in Minnesota saw a major change in the retirement requirements for cops. As a result, over 2,000 officers will be retiring in the next few months before those changes take place. I will be among them. I will, however, continue to write and train law enforcement officers.

This mass exodus of officers from Minnesota law enforcement will create a change in the culture of law enforcement at the departmental and state level. I hope that it will be a positive one. 

We all have the ability to affect our culture — head into 2014 with that understanding. Ask yourself what you can do to improve yourself, your department, and the police culture as a whole. Be willing to take the steps to make peace with those you consider your enemies to make positive changes.

Triumph Over Fear
If we achieve 100 or few officers killed in the line of duty this year, Below 100 will see its goal met. If we don’t, we will still have reached the positive outcome of lowering officer deaths from last year. 

Every one of us — law enforcement writers, trainers, supervisors, FTOs and line officers — have a duty to create as safe a profession as possible. One way we do that is by speaking up and speaking out. Be the positive agent of change. Let lowering the number of line of duty deaths, officer suicide and job-related heart attacks be your goal for 2014.

What changes do you need to see in yourself, in your department, in the culture of this great and noble profession? As Mandela said:

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

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