FEATURED IN BELOW 100
Author’s note: I’d like to thank survivors Christie Lynch, Melissa Dorrance Baray and Vivian Eney Cross. Many thanks go to Jennifer Thacker, COPS Director of National Outreach, for her assistance with this article. Visit the Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS) website, www.nationalcops.org, to learn more about their continued efforts to support the survivors of line-of-duty deaths.
The fifth tenant of the Below 100 Initiative is “Remember: Complacency kills!” Sadly, many LEOs die in training because they ignored this simple advice. We lose about 12 officers in training each year. The injuries sustained in training are countless. And the dangers aren’t specific to firearms training: They frequently occur during other training, such as force-on-force scenarios, physical control tactics, rappelling and SCUBA diving.
The statistics demonstrate the need to maintain vigilance during all training evolutions just as we should on the street. Although the number of deaths may not be as high as those from vehicle collisions or felonious assaults, every death prevented helps us meet the attainable Below 100 goal and keeps one more family and agency from dealing with the loss of a loved one. Bottom line: Training deaths are often preventable deaths. Safety must be a paramount concern in our training if we’re to prevent deaths like those that occurred in the following cases.
Sgt. Tate Lynch
Casa Grande (Ariz.) PD
End of Watch: October 25, 2007
Sgt. Tate Lynch was born into a law enforcement family. His father had been a police officer in Tucson and inspired Tate to follow in the same career path. Tate became an instinctive cop, who continued to pound the street, find bad guys and make arrests even after his promotion to sergeant. He took training seriously and was known to tape episodes of the television show Cops and review the tactics, good and bad, with the officers he supervised. In addition to his law enforcement service, Tate was a devoted family man. He worked in various roles at his church. Christie described Tate as the “most impressive human being” she’d ever met.
Tate was participating in rappelling exercises at a nearby prison as a member of a regional SWAT team run by a local sheriff’s department. Tate’s rappelling attempt was at least the 30th rappel on the same rope in that short time. Unable to control his rapid descent, Tate struck his head on a picnic table beneath the rappelling wall. He was treated on scene by prison medical staff before being airlifted to a hospital. He died later that evening, leaving a wife and three young children behind. As a final act of service, Sgt. Tate Lynch saved four lives that night by donating his organs.
A lengthy post-incident investigation identified numerous failures that stacked on top of one another resulting in Tate’s death. The officer leading the training hadn’t been certified to instruct rappelling. The rope that was used had been stored outside for five years, wasn’t the correct diameter for rappelling, and was fatigued due to numerous rappels that day. None of the officers were properly trained on new rappelling equipment. Common rappelling safety measures, such as the use of a belay, were ignored. In the end, a total of seven OSHA violations were identified against the team and sheriff’s department.
In addition, the team and the sheriff’s department reportedly had a history of refusing to conduct after action reviews (AAR) after training and real-world events. Officers were encouraged to keep their opinions to themselves prior to Tate’s death, even though some had expressed concerns privately about the manner in which callouts and training were handled.
A subsequent lawsuit against the sheriff’s department took three years to resolve. The team commanders were replaced, and management, training and command of the regional SWAT team reportedly improved greatly in the wake of this tragedy. An interagency agreement was formally signed for the first time, and team commanders now report to a committee consisting of members from the county and all the cities involved in the joint team. After-action reviews now take place encouraging team members to state their concerns and suggestions for improvement and training must be approved through formal channels.
Air Interdiction Agent Julio Baray
DHS; Customs & Border Protection, Air & Marine
End of Watch: September 24, 2007
Agent Julio Baray was born in Mexico but became a U.S. citizen before answering a calling to join the U.S. Border Patrol. He’d taken flying lessons since he was 16 years old, acquired his pilot’s license and hoped to combine his love of law enforcement with his love of flying.
Baray had a passion for helping others and he used the senses he developed as a law enforcement officer to carefully assess who would use his help to improve their lives and who would just continue living a life of crime and poverty. He was known to buy food for homeless people or give them money. He targeted much of his effort as an officer and as a citizen on helping children vulnerable to criminals. After several years in the Border Patrol, Baray got his wish to become a law enforcement pilot. He transferred to the newly created Air and Marine Division of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which was undergoing a dramatic expansion of its air assets.