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Tipping Point: Reducing LEO deaths and injuries on roadways

There are countless individuals and organizations now poised to be 'the tipping point' when it comes to reducing line of duty deaths and injuries caused from roadways

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book that I consider a must read for any law enforcement trainer. The premise of the book — entitled The Tipping Point — is that a few individuals can and will make a large difference in the world around them and that small changes can have big effects. What may seem impossible by the masses is actually accomplished by the few. The reason the book is so very important to trainers and to all of law enforcement is that it gives hope and that, often times, is exactly what is needed.

Throughout my career as a trainer, there have been many ups and downs — if you are a trainer, you know exactly what I mean. Whether it is management pulling the plug on a training program that is working or a student with an attitude that makes you want to scream or a nasty comment from a reader, that is why hope is so very much needed.

There are countless individuals right now that are the tipping point when it comes to reducing line of duty deaths and injuries caused from roadways. That list would amass pages of the men and women that I personally know that are no doubt making a difference.  With that in mind, this article will not list individuals but organizations that have made a commitment to prevention and it is these organizations that we, as a profession, should wholeheartedly support and embrace.

I know what you are going to say. Of course you list PoliceOne because you write for them! But that would be wrong. PoliceOne is listed first here for one reason. They are one of the first organizations to take a stand against the issue of roadway deaths to law enforcement. In 2004, when I began writing a monthly article with PoliceOne, no one else was doing it — and it wasn’t through a lack of trying.

I had contacted numerous groups and individuals that claim to “support” the men and women of law enforcement but nothing but silence came from them. That was not the case from P1, and they recognized early on what most would acknowledge today. There is an epidemic of roadway related deaths to our profession and most importantly they made an effort to curb that trend. They did this when it wasn’t exactly the topic of the day and that effort continues today.  A brief look at the Website proves their — our! — commitment to the issue.

I attended the International Law Enforcement Educators & Trainers Association (ILEETA) Conference for the first time in 2007. What I discovered that year and — every year thereafter — was the most committed group of law enforcement trainers in one place that has ever been assembled. The information flow and networking that occurs each spring just outside of Chicago has an important impact on law enforcement throughout the year as those trainers sprawl out across the country.

It is an event that you simply can’t read about to understand. You have to be there. The 2012 Conference begins in just three days, on April 16th.

SAFE Campaign
If you have not heard about the State of California’s ‘Situation-Appropriate, Focused, and Educated’ Driving Campaign’, then you will soon. Known as the SAFE Driving Campaign, the process began a few years ago to address roadway deaths and injuries to California’s Finest but the group quickly discovered that their efforts could have a national impact. Indeed it has and countless instructors across the country are using resources that have been provided by SAFE. Their latest resource is an outstanding video on the lack of seatbelt usage in law enforcement.  It is provided as a free download on their website.

Why is SAFE so important to our profession? It is the largest effort by the largest group of experts in the field of Emergency Vehicle Operations in the history of our profession. A quick look around any meeting and you would see the police fatigue expert Dr. Bryan Vila or Pursuit Research Expert Dr. Geofrey Alpert. If you don’t want to mingle with the PHD types than how about Lt. “Doc” Halliday with the Michigan State Police or an instructor from NYPD or the head of EVOC from a myriad of agencies. The work that is being done is not yet complete but a look at their website will help instructors and all of law enforcement now.

Below 100
1944 was the last time our yearly annual deaths were Below 100 and an event called World War II likely played a role in that so it would be crazy to think that we could ever see those numbers again? You may think that but don’t tell a core of instructors across the country that are taking this very concept to a city near you.

An idea that started around a dinner table at ILEETA in 2010 took off with a vengeance at ILEETA in 2011 when the first “train the trainer” course was given. A year after the first course, thousands of officers across the country have been exposed to the concepts and the 2011 IACP Officer of the Year, Michael Neal, discusses it often in presentations. P1 Contributor Brian Willis, and P1 Academy Expert Chief Jeff Chudwin are presenters and the energy being produced by this Campaign is like nothing I have seen in my career.  Virtually every agency I walk into are displaying posters http://below100.com/for-trainers/posters/and talking about it.

PoliceOne Columnist Duane Wolfe wrote about this Initiative last October, and his words remain true today. 

“…we each need to do our part to eliminate avoidable in the line of duty deaths. You go a long way towards meeting that goal by letting the situation dictate the tactics. Understand the risk level on a stop and choose the correct stop techniques to employ. You can live or die by the choices you make.”

Officer Down Memorial Page
When James Madison University freshman Chris Cosgriff read a Washington Post article about a cop killer serving only 16 years in prison, he wanted to honor fallen officers in some way.  With passion and nothing more than an idea, the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP) was formed and Chris had no idea that his first page memorializing one officer would turn into a website listing a page for every officer that has ever paid the ultimate sacrifice. The ODMP is one of the most widely visited law enforcement website by trainers and there is a reason for that. To memorialize is so very important but to prevent future losses is a must. For years, Chris and his team of volunteers worked tirelessly to bring details of how an officer gave the ultimate sacrifice and in 2010, with a small operating budget, he and Technical Director Mike Schultz were able to start working full time with ODMP.

What could just two individuals do for a profession that they are not even a member of? Well, I urge you to take a look at their Website. They have free resources including safety posters for agencies and they are behind an important campaign to provide every peace officer in America with body armor.  

Saving officer lives are a priority for the ODMP and their efforts have paid off.  Two lives have been saved from the body armor program they endorse and it doesn’t stop at vests.  They are actively involved with ALERT International, which supports EVOC Instructors and their newest campaign aims to prevent parole for anyone convicted of murdering a police officer.

I believe that what the groups above have and currently do have literally saved lives. Yes, I understand that is a bold statement but I believe it with everything I have in me. It is a statement that can’t be completely quantified but we can have that hope I discussed earlier.

There is hope because for the last decade our profession has averaged a loss of 160 men and women behind the badge yearly and in the last 12 month period (April-March) we have lost 136.  As I write this in 2012, we have lost 25 officers in the line of duty and while no number is a time to celebrate, we must be encouraged because that is a significant reduction. In fact, it puts us on pace for 99 in 2012 and the last time we began a year with line of duty deaths this low was 1943.

It is still no time to celebrate and we know all to well that what we may see as an early success this year can turn ever more tragic very quickly but we should have hope and we should be encouraged because many are putting the gas pedal down right now to ensure that our profession is safer today than it was yesterday.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book about how a few individuals can change things like fashion in America. If we believe what he wrote, then why is the same not true for law enforcement? Gladwell gives the definition of The Tipping Point as the “name given to that one dramatic moment in an epidemic when everything can change” (The Tipping Point, page 9).

Yes, a few can change everything and if you are reading this then you are a part of the few.  At no time in our history have so many organizations worked towards one common goal and I encourage you to be a part of the history that they will be talking about for generations to come.

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