FEATURED IN BELOW 100
As we close the books on 2011, we’re also bringing an end to one of the deadliest Decembers that law enforcement has seen in the last twenty years. Nineteen officers died during December, a number exceeded only by the December of 1994 (21). With these nineteen deaths, the preliminary number for total LODDs during 2011 is 163, two greater than we lost in 2010. Although the totals are very close, the manner in which officers died during 2011 has been significantly different. For the first time in fourteen years, the number of officers dying from gunfire (66) exceeded those killed in vehicle related incidents (59). In fact, gunfire deaths are up more than ten percent compared to last year. All of this information is provided by our partners at the Officer Down Memorial Page.
Here’s the summary of where we lost officers during December:
Twelve officers died as a result of gunfire. Two officers were shot and killed while involved in traffic stops where they were with another officer. In both of those incidents, the other officers were also shot but survived, one because of his body armor. A patrol officer died eleven days after being shot in the head during a domestic disturbance. One was a detective killed by a suspect who was hiding at a crime scene. One was an officer working an off-duty security job who intervened in a robbery. One was an off-duty ATF agent who confronted an armed robber at a pharmacy. A campus officer was killed when he was on a traffic stop and an unrelated person walked up and shot him in the head. A deputy sheriff was shot and killed by a subject he was taking into custody for a child support warrant. A patrol officer died while he was conducting a pat down and was shot from behind by another person. Another One officer was killed while he was on a code-enforcement assist and a subject unrelated to the call walked up and shot him. A Puerto Rican officer was killed when his vehicle was struck by more than 60 rounds in an apparent retaliation for a narcotics investigation. An officer who had been shot during an off-duty incident in 1985 succumbed to his wounds.
Four officers died as a result of vehicle related incidents. A police chief died after his vehicle hit a patch of ice and went off the road, striking a tree. A motorcycle officer who was trying to overtake a traffic violator was killed when a vehicle turned left in front of him. A deputy sheriff was killed when his vehicle left the roadway and struck a tree while responding to a fight call. An undersheriff died after being struck by a vehicle while he was directing traffic.
Two officers lost their lives to drowning. One was an experienced police diver who died during a training exercise. The other was an off-duty FBI agent who tried to rescue a person in distress.
One officer died of a heart attack after responding to a report of a subject who had jumped from a bridge.
There are a lot of different opinions out there on why we’re seeing the spike in gunfire related LODDs. Rather than assign it to any one causal element, I think it’s important to point out the lessons that can be most immediately realized from a very tragic 2011. First, we’ve experienced an increased level of offensive attacks on officers. Some refer to these as an ambush but I’m concerned that this may give the wrong impression. In the truest sense of the term, an ambush is extremely difficult to prevent and the truth is, some of these deaths could have been prevented. It is true and very noteworthy that many of the attacks were unprovoked and sometimes initiated by suspects unrelated to the officer’s assigned activity. It is also apparent that a number of officers were killed by shots to the face, head or areas unprotected by body armor. This may be attributable to a greater awareness that officers routinely wear body armor. (You do wear your body armor, right?)
Here are the takeaways on the increase in gunfire related deaths: 1) Cops wear guns for a reason. Complacency kills because it opens the door to any contact becoming a deadly encounter. 2) The principle of contact and cover absolutely works and must be practiced as a normal course of business. Several of the gunfire deaths during December happened when more than one officer was present. 3) Body armor does work and many more officers were saved as a result of body armor this year than were killed while wearing it. However, it only works if you wear it and encourage others to do the same. 4) Many of the officers lost were lost in close quarters gun battle situations. This is an area that we are just beginning to address in training but much more attention to this area is needed. Range practice at the 15 yard line and up has very, very minimal value in the real world of surviving in the street. 5) Off-duty confrontations have a much greater likelihood of turning deadly than on-duty situations. Officers should have a pre-established threshold of engagement, a plan that they’ve shared with their family and acute situational awareness to the off-duty lack of resources and potential for misidentification.