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Risk compensation, distraction & officer survival


WASHINGTON, D.C. - The number of police officers killed nationwide during the first half of 2006 increased by more than seven percent over the same period last year.

According to NLEOMF Chairman Craig W. Floyd, one of the most troubling trends is the growing number of officers killed in automobile crashes. "The number of officers killed in automobile crashes has increased by 40 percent over the last three decades and by 22 percent over the past year," Mr. Floyd stated.

"For the last eight years, the number of officers killed in traffic-related incidents has surpassed the number of officers killed in shootings. It appears that this trend is continuing in 2006."

He added that increased driver training for officers, improved safety systems in law enforcement vehicles and citizens who are more attentive to officers stopped on the side of the road will help to reduce these fatality figures.


The above article is once again drawing our attention to officers killed in traffic accidents. What a paradox considering how the officer safety industry has blossomed in the last ten years. Look at all the great weapons, body armor, air bags, and communications we have at our disposal today! The problem is we haven't change the basic component of police work...humans who like risk.

One of the phenomena we are seeing is known as "Risk Compensation;" the fact that people need a certain amount of risk. I don't mean they tolerate risk...I mean they need it. When we don't perceive we are getting our risk need fulfilled we seek out more risk. This may translate into not stopping at red lights while going Code 3, failing to put our seatbelts on, or going faster than one might consider prudent down a residential street. In other words, we compensate for perceived safety by increasing our risks. Some folks are more prone to this than others; the problem we face in law enforcement is that the profession attracts people who like the risk, and the adventure it offers.

We can help eliminate some of this compensation by reminding our officers of the dangers ever present in the profession. Have an "officer down" update daily to reinforce the dangers of police work since we still want to keep alert to all the risks we face: assaults, accidents, heart attacks, all the broad range of threats that injure and kill officers annually.

(To learn more read the wonderful article about managing risk by the economist John Adams, Cars, Cholera, and Cows: The Management of Risk and Uncertainty)

Another factor accounting for the increasing traffic fatalities is the fact that we are building too many distracters into our police vehicles. We have MDC's and MDT's and cell phones and radios and radar all beeping and ringing and blaring away. We have a very limited ability to attend to things and we honestly don't multitask very well, so we need to make sure we focus on the important things at the right time and when operating a vehicle we need to focus on driving.

Agencies need to rethink how they get information out to officers responding to hot calls so their attention is not constantly being drawn into the vehicle. I will bet you can name five things in your vehicle that are constantly demanding your attention from phones to sliding clipboards to spilling coffee. Any of these can draw your eye away at a critical instant when you need to be attending to the threat cues being presented from and along the roadway ahead!

Hopefully, by just doing some basic steps we can reverse the trend so tragically illustrated by the numbers indicated in article above.

Stay safe.

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