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Interact Business Group Presents: 2008 Firefighter and Police Fatalities - Part 2

Where do we stand? Where do we go from here?

By Barbara Doepping
Interact Business Group

Part II - U. S. Law Enforcement Officer Deaths Review
(Read Part 1)

Law Enforcement Officer Deaths Decline Sharply in 2008, read the headline of the preliminary statistics report in the December, 2008 Research Bulletin of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (www.nleomf.org). And although 2008 will go on record as one of the safest years for peace officers in the last four decades—140 peace officers gave their lives to make it so. According to Craig W. Floyd, Chairman and CEO of the NLEOMF, "New data for 2008 suggest that law enforcement executives, officers, associations and trainers heeded the call this year—and the country's peace officers were safer as a result."

Public agencies today are seriously reevaluating their training facilities, requirements, methods and strategies, while facing tightening training budgets, increased requirements, environmental concerns, and aged facilities. The Interact Business Group is committed to providing strategic Business Plans for state-of-the-art training facilities. State-of-the-art facilities that provide training, training that saves lives.

2008 statistical review

What happened in 2008 was radically different compared to the number of officers killed in 2007 (181 officers gave their lives in the line of duty, the highest total in 20 years). However, Jennifer Thacker, National President, Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) brings the point home, “… we know that for each of the surviving families and co-workers, their one officer is one too many.” What worked and what didn’t in 2008? The statistics provided by the NLEOMF speak for themselves.

Gunfire deaths lowest since 1965

From 35 deaths in 1954, up to a high of 156 in 1973, 2008 records a loss of 41 officers due to firearms-related incidents. That’s down a dramatic 40% from 2007. Two top techniques that were employed in ‘08, per Craig Floyd, included better use of non-lethal weapons and Taser stun guns, and the fact that over 70% of policemen used bullet-resistant vests.
At the Milwaukee police academy instructors believe improved training has resulted in fewer officer deaths. Sgt. Jim MacGillis related that their training involves simulation exercise requiring officers to make a decision to shoot or not shoot, and that cadets practice live-fire training as well.

Traffic deaths down, however…

The good news is that twelve fewer officers died in traffic related incidents compared to the 83 that lost their lives in 2007. Nevertheless, for 11 years in a row more officers have lost their lives in motorcycle and automobile crashes and by being struck by other vehicles. Of these 71 officers that lost their lives in 2008, 17 lost their lives when struck by another vehicle, motorcycle accidents claimed 10 lives, and automobile crashes claimed the most: 44; and although the highest category of loss, this number indicates a 25 percent decline.

How has improved training and equipment affected traffic deaths? Today, officer’s vehicles are more apt to include side-air bags and many include a fire suppression substance located near the gas tank to reduce the risk of fire. Improved training in high-speed and defensive driving techniques can also be credited to the decrease in fatalities.

Record high number of female officers killed

Numbers indicated that almost 11% of officers killed in 2008 were female. This number (15) rivals the all-time high of women killed in 2002. Average age was 41 years with 13 years of police experience.

Other causes of death

The next largest category was fatalities due to job/physical related incidents (17). In decreasing numbers, aircraft incidents claimed three and bomb-related incidents, two. Also reported was one: beating, drowning, electrocution and train-related incident. In 2008 there were no terrorist-related deaths, compared to five in 2007.

Education/Awareness/Safety practices prove positive

Following the increased 2007 statistics last year, the NLEOMF, along with local and national media made a major effort to bring officer safety awareness not only to the law enforcement community but to the general public and lawmakers as well. The International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) and other conferences focused on officer safety and training. Particular attention was directed toward handing domestic violence calls, traffic stops, vehicle pursuits and defensive driving.

The NLEOMF data further divulged that additional safety steps were taken by various agencies across the nation. One example cited came from south Florida where peace officers now combat street crime armed with the use of higher-powered weapons. Education/awareness and increased safety practices have paid off as 2008 statistics has proved.


Officer Driver Safety

It’s a disturbing trend that although the numbers of people killed in automobile crashes across the nation since 1970 has declined by 20%, law enforcement officers killed has risen by more than 30%, with the largest number being struck by another vehicle while out of their own vehicle.

As a result many states have passed “move-over” laws, and the NLEOMF has launched their Campaign to Decrease Law Enforcement Fatalities on the Road. The focus is to bring to public awareness the dangers officers face in traffic, along with tips (indicated below) that we can all use to assist officers in their efforts to remain safe.

• If you are pulled over by a police officer: pull over to the right quickly, leaving room for the officer on the shoulder of the road (unless directed otherwise).
• As soon as you are pulled over: turn the vehicle off and turn on the flashers, turn off the radio, roll down the window, turn on the interior light, and keep your hands visible where the officer can see them. Never exit the vehicle on your own, unless otherwise directed by the officer.
• When viewing an officer on the side of the road (or an accident): remain focused on the road and move over one lane to the left—avoid being distracted.
• Limit cell phone use, talking, eating, etc., any/all things that distract you from driving
• Move over for officers and emergency vehicles. Slow down, move to the right, and stop if possible.
• Other common sense precautions include: Report drunk drivers, don’t drive on the shoulder of the highway or wear headphones. Drive Sober, within the speed limit, and without loud audio/video distractions.

Working together we can all do our part to improve officer safety and help reduce the number of police officer fatalities in 2009. The Interact Business Group supports the efforts of the NLEOMF and the law enforcement profession and others who are striving to improve education, training and awareness of best practices that protect and equip our law enforcement officers. For more detailed information on 2008 statistics visit www.nleomf.org.

By the way—we're off to a good start! Fatalities for 2009 are down 39%.

About Interact Business Group/Training Center Business Plans

For over 15 years IBG has consistently written Public Safety Training Center plans for fire, police and other emergency groups. We have successfully moved projects from the planning stage, to funding and operations. For more information please contact us at (760) 751-0773 or visit www.theinteractgroup.com.

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