Increase in 2007 officer deaths: Pattern or anomaly?
By Dave Smith
From the If you just got back from a long vacation and haven’t heard the news yet, law enforcement is having a terrible year. Deaths are up 39% over last year and officers killed by assaults are on course to reach the terrible numbers we saw thirty years ago. Just look at the year-to-date as of the morning of July 24th from the Officer Down Memorial Page (www.odmp.org) Website:
Aircraft accident: 2
Automobile accident: 31
Boating accident: 1
Exposure to toxins: 1
Gunfire (Accidental): 3
Heart attack: 3
Motorcycle accident: 3
Struck by vehicle: 4
Vehicle pursuit: 3
Vehicular assault: 4
Weather/Natural disaster: 2
Average Tour: 10 years, 1 month
Average Age: 37
What we see at first blush is greater numbers in many categories and a few in categories we normally don’t see many officers killed in, such as drowning [for more on drowning prevention read Taking the plunge: Water safety that could save your life] and weather disasters. 2007 will be a bad year no matter what the remaining months bring since the year-to- date numbers are so tragic. But what does this mean to you as you get ready to go on duty today, tonight, or are reading this from the terminal in you patrol vehicle?
Preparation not Paranoia
The simple truth about officers killed and assaulted statistics is they are ambiguous until compared over a long period of time. It is simply too early to tell if we are seeing some sociological trend such as the criminologists’ long predicted “Super-Predator” plague finally hitting society or a simple statistical run of random events going against the officers involved to a disproportionate extent; kind of like someone throwing six “sevens” in a row in a game of craps. Statistically this shouldn’t happen but it does. Risk is a statistical reality as well and every time you speed to a call, make a traffic stop, search a building, get into a physical confrontation or an armed one you are gambling on winning.
We stack the odds by training both our skills and our mind to give us the edge. Regardless of what the reason for this year numbers are we shouldn’t be driving around worried. Worrying is negative visualization, you would be driving around mentally practicing losing! We should be driving around with our memories refreshed that is this truly a dangerous job we need to be mentally rehearsing each potential crisis or risk we might face. Studies show what we think we “blueprint” and we need to keep it positive and focused on the immediate threats we might face.
Condition Yellow, a broad external awareness focusing on the “now.” When we get a “routine” call we should immediate visualize any potential risk or threat we might face from accidents en route to assailants in waiting upon our arrival. This peaks our mind to not only deal with whatever we mentally rehearse for but also allows us to deal creatively with a novel threat and keeps us focused on the singular goal of every critical incident…winning!
One thing this terrible year should do is put to rest the debate about survival training. There are still many critics who believe the profession spends too much time preparing for the very rare life and death incidents and too little time dealing with liability and “customer service!” I have always been amazed at how many hours of training from day one in the academy on are spent on what might be described as “preventing a beef or lawsuit” classes. I am not saying these aren’t important, but when I read someone wants these expanded even more and officer “winning” training reduced because it makes us too aggressive I am always amazed. One of our very real concerns is the phenomena of “liability hesitation” where an officer hesitates that one second because the mind is dealing with the fear of administrative actions or civil or criminal liability. This is minimized by realistic training designed to reinforce the General Orders of an agency and laws of the State…again, preparation not paranoia.
I do agree that if any profession deserved to be paranoid it is ours since someone is really out to get us! But all paranoia does is destroy performance and stress us. We are the hunters and we chose that path. The one striking statistic that this year reinforces is the 8 to 12 year liability window. The average tenure of the officers killed this year is 10 years and one month, age 37. This is exactly the optimum time for routine to have deteriorated your performance. Remember, routine de-trains you; lulls you, lies to you that the world is full of “yes” people and false alarms. Good training is a great antidote for these effects but remember the rule of being a winner: you don’t wait for others to train and prepare you, you prepare yourself!
Carefully reread the data for this year so far and get your mind right. Has routine affected your mindset and skills? Dedicate yourself to not only seeing if you have developed any bad habits but attend to your brother and sister officers as well and warn them if they are getting slopping in their survival habits.
Finally, I don’t know if we are just experiencing an exceptionally terrible years or a pattern for years to come. Regardless, use this sad year to make you better, more prepared and harder to kill…and never forget the fallen whose sacrifice is made more hallowed by your continuing to win in their memory.
Stay safe and WIN!