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What the famed 'I'll take a bullet' cop can teach us about officer safety for 2016

Knowing that they may need to take a bullet in their effort to save an innocent, police officers went to work each day wearing their body armor


Each year I close my final column with a suggestion of a battle cry for the coming year. This year, the choice is simple: “I will take a bullet before you, that’s for damn sure.”

Those were the words of Detective Jorge Lozano of the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department during the mass shooting response at the Inland Regional Center in December. That powerful statement speaks volumes about who the men and women of law enforcement worldwide are and what they stand for.

San Bernardino County Sheriff's detective Jorge Lozano, center, answers questions from reporters during a news conference. (AP Image)
San Bernardino County Sheriff's detective Jorge Lozano, center, answers questions from reporters during a news conference. (AP Image)

Knowing that they may need to take a bullet in their effort to save an innocent, police officers went to work each day wearing their body armor. In 2015, that choice saved officers in a variety of instances. Consider the following incidents as you contemplate this battle cry for 2016.

Proof of Life
In June, NYPD Officer Ben Praster was seated at his desk finishing up a report when his computer screen suddenly exploded, sending shards of glass into his face. The bullet from an AK-47, used in a drive by shooting a block away, had missed its intended target and traveled into the police station, penetrating the computer screen before being stopped by the officer’s vest.

Concealable body armor is not designed to stop a 7.62 x 39 rifle round, but in this case distance and the intermediate objects slowed the bullet down enough that the officer didn’t even know that he had been shot. Good luck or bad luck (depending on how you look at it) along with body armor saved the officer from injury.

In another case out of New York in June, members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force served a search warrant on a terrorism suspect on Staten Island in an attempt to stop his plans for terrorist attacks planned for the 4th of July. The suspect repeatedly attempted to stab an FBI agent with a large butcher knife and attempted to disarm one of the other officers who was armed with a rifle.

In the span of one week, two Tennessee officers were saved by their body armor in two separate incidents. A Memphis officer was shot in the chest while attempting to serve a warrant. Knoxville Officer Jimmy Wilson was shot by a suspect wanted for carjacking and assaulting a federal officer with a firearm. Initially, Wilson didn’t know he was shot until he felt a burning sensation; he was able to return to work only a week later.

Protect Yourself
According to the 2015 Body Armor for Law Enforcement: In Brief report, officers are 3.4 times more likely to die from a shot to the torso if they are not wearing body armor. The report estimates that if every officer wore their vest, it would save more than eight police lives per year. That would add to the estimated 3,000 officers whose lives have been saved by vests in the last 30 years.

Wearing your body armor should be one of your top priorities for 2016. To live up to the battle cry, “I will take a bullet before you do” requires that you are prepared mentally and physically to stay in the fight and win. Mental preparation includes an understanding of the risks of our profession that in turn sparks realistic preparation. Physical preparation includes training and wearing the appropriate equipment to safeguard you in doing a dangerous job as safely as you can. Stay safe and enjoy 2016.

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