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IACP 2011: Officer safety is #1 concern of chiefs

What can we do to increase officer safety despite the declining budgetary resources most agencies have available?

The annual the International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference and Expo is, for all intents and purposes, now over. I had a wildly-successful stay in Chicago, talking with police leaders from all over the world, and checking out the latest products and services for law enforcement from a wide variety of vendors. In coming months I will pass along the lessons learned from the seminar sessions I attended, as well as the cool new products I saw, but for today’s column I will simply continue a conversation that was without doubt the most-discussed issue of the entire week: police officer safety.

From the get-go at 0700 on Saturday morning, right up until the moment I left McCormick Place for O’Hare yesterday afternoon, nearly everyone with whom I spoke was focused (to the point of obsession) on reducing police officer deaths and injuries. That “buzz” was elevated to an entirely different level on Monday when the FBI released the 2010 edition of its annual analysis Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted.

According to the FBI’s LEOKA 2010, 56 LEOs were feloniously killed in the line of duty last year (eight more than 2009), 72 officers died in on-duty accidents, and 53,469 officers were assaulted in the line of duty. This, to say the very least, is unacceptable.

FBI Statistical Data
“Among the officers who were feloniously killed, the average age was 38 years,” said the FBI report. “The victim officers had served in law enforcement for an average of 10 years at the time of the fatal incidents... Offenders used firearms to kill 55 of the 56 victim officers. Of these 55 officers, 38 were slain with handguns, 15 with rifles, and 2 with shotguns. One officer was killed with a vehicle used as a weapon,” according to the FBI.

Of the 56 officers feloniously killed, 15 were ambushed, 14 were involved in arrest situations, eight were investigating suspicious persons and/or suspicious circumstances, seven were performing traffic stops/pursuits, six were answering disturbance calls, three were involved in tactical situations, two were conducting investigative activity such as surveillance, searches, or interviews, and one was killed during the transport and/or custody of prisoners.

Of the 72 law enforcement officers killed in accidents while performing their duties in 2010, the majority of them (45 officers) were killed in automobile accidents. The number of accidental line-of-duty deaths was up 24 from the 2009 total (48 officers).

“In 2010, 53,469 law enforcement officers were assaulted while performing their duties. Of the officers assaulted, 26.1 percent suffered injuries. The largest percentage of victim officers (33.0 percent) were assaulted while responding to disturbance calls (family quarrels, bar fights, etc.). Assailants used personal weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.) in 81.8 percent of the incidents, firearms in 3.4 percent of incidents, and knives or other cutting instruments in 1.7 percent of the incidents. Other types of dangerous weapons were used in 13.1 percent of assaults,” said the FBI in a document summarizing this year’s LEOKA findings.

Information is Power
Following the seminar session on Sovereign Citizens — which I will write about in greater detail sometime down the line — I was able to visit briefly with Bob Paudert, who had served as Chief of the West Memphis (Ark.) Police Department until his retirement two months ago. You will recall that Chief Paudert lost two of his officers — one of whom was his son — during a traffic stop along Interstate 40. Paudert told me that he’s convinced that his officers might be alive today if they “knew what they had” in Jerry Kane, and his 16-year-old son, Joe.

Paudert told me that when Sgt. Brandon Paudert and Officer Bill Evans approached that minivan, they simply didn’t have information that would have helped them to recognize the threat they posed. Those so-called Sovereign Citizens are growing in number and intensity of action — some estimates indicate there are 300,000 or more of them across the country — but are not impossible to spot on the road. They tend to make their own license plates and put bumper stickers on their vehicles which say things like, “I am an American National” or “Not Subject to Corporate Federal or Corporate State Jurisdiction.”

Paudert now travels the country talking about these individuals and they threat they pose to police officers. He said that he’s pretty much “booked through the summer of next year,” an obvious indicator of the demand for the information he is sharing — empowering agencies and officers to lower that number of LEOs killed and injured in assaults.

Those West Memphis police officers were outgunned — and it’s no secret that I want every single squad car in America to have at least one patrol rifle in it — but what they really needed to be armed with was better information. Like Paudert, I’m dedicated to sharing out the many new pieces of information I gathered at IACP 2011, and in coming months you’ll see many columns stemming from my many conversations held during this year’s event.

Many times at these conferences — actually, pretty much all the time at these events — some of the best “learning” happens during the myriad informal break-out sessions which develop in the hallways, at the commissary, in the hotel lobby, and of course at the hosted happy hour events. During the vast majority of my conversations at these impromptu venues, the central theme of discussion was: “What can we do to increase officer safety despite the declining budgetary resources most agencies have available?”

There really is no simple (or single) answer, but it is my aim to help fill the gap, providing as much information as possible to all LEOs out there so you can be safer and more successful on the street.

As always, stay safe my friends.

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