Below 100 - What We Can Do Now to Save Officers’ Lives

The subtitle of this initiative should be “What can we do to reduce the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty in the U.S. to less than 100?” Those of you who are math majors will recognize that’s a significant drop. 2010 so far hasn’t been a good year in our profession, with more than 120 deaths already tallied. Each of those “numbers” involves a very sad story about an individual who had dedicated his or her life to the business of protecting society. They died while doing it.

Each LODD is tragic, but some of them hit harder than others because the involved officer/deputy/trooper/agent was someone you knew personally. This year my former department, the California Highway Patrol, has lost several officers. A couple of those were men I worked with, and proudly.

I hate to say this, but we are on track in 2010 to lose 150 officers. This is a huge number. When I read Editor-in-Chief Dale Stockton’s challenges in his Below 100 editorials, I got fired up: I know we can do something about this, and I want to do my part.

For those of you I’ve been fortunate to meet over the years, you know what my pitch is on this (and any other) issue. It all gets down to managing risk. If we can identify risks, we can put together control measures to address those risks. What control measures can we put in place today to reduce the number of line-of-duty deaths to a number less than 100? This would be a reduction of more than 30 percent, and that would be a huge drop. It won’t be easy, but we can do it. I’ll prove that now.

The Way Forward
1973: the year I joined this noble profession. Here’s another number for you taken from 1973: 269. That’s the number of LODDs in law enforcement in 1973. Read: The year I got into the business, we lost 269 law enforcement personnel!

Now for those of you who are having difficulty with the numbers (Lieutenant!), in 1973 we had 269 deaths and in 2009 we had 127 deaths. That’s more than a 50% reduction. You can talk to anyone in the business or check the “accumulated data” yourself, but less cops are dying today than when Stockton and I signed on, and when Adam-12 was the new hit cop show.

Here’s some further data for you to consider. The number of aggravated assaults against law enforcement personnel has gone up significantly since 1973—yet the number of LODDs has dropped dramatically.

How can this be? Assaults are up and deaths are down? I don’t think anyone ever said “Below 250” in 1973. Or “Below 200” in later years. But somehow we did it. What control measures were put in place to reduce the numbers so dramatically? There are several, but here are the big three:

1. Better training;

2. Better personal protective equipment; and

3. Better basic and advanced life support.

Onward Still
Certainly, training’s improved big time since those “early days.” Check out the “Newhall Incident” from my department. Four young CHP officers were murdered in 1970 in Newhall, Calif., in large part because they weren’t properly trained.

This lack of training was a national issue in the 1970s. Some very smart people put control measures (specifically, more frequent and realistic combat-related training) in place and that’s made a significant improvement in safety.

Better personal protective equipment has benefited us greatly also. Better guns, bullet-resistant vests, head protection and patrol cars (including better seat belts and safer interiors) have made a huge difference.

Regarding the basic and advanced life support issue, next time you see a paramedic, make sure you thank them. Their actions in BLS and ALS have dramatically helped in reducing LODD deaths.

Below 100
So what can we do now to reduce these deaths below 100? Here are my three thoughts on what we need to do today. Perhaps you have seen these before: better training, better personal protective equipment and better BLS/ALS.

Although the available training has gotten better, we must improve upon it. The focus must be not only on skills and accuracy, but also knowledge of law and policy. I think some of our LODDs are related to gunfire and other assaults get down to hesitation on the part of the involved officer—hesitation caused by having to think rather than act. Establish your “memory markers” and “behavioral scripts” through constant and rigorous training that focuses on when to shoot.

That’s why I am a big fan of daily (that’s right, daily) training in law enforcement. Training must focus on the “core critical tasks” (defined: high-risk, low-frequency, no time to think), including “shoot/don’t shoot.” Important: Every day must be a training day! We must ensure our people know how to respond when involved in a life-threatening situation. Verification of this knowledge must happen frequently.

Regarding equipment, I’m sad to tell you that too many cops are being killed in vehicular operations. When you look at the causes of these deaths, it comes down to “speed too fast for conditions” and “failure to wear the seatbelt.” So we must focus on reducing speed and wearing the seatbelt.

Frankly, I am absolutely fed up with the vehicle deaths—and you should be also! Talk to your peers and anyone else who will listen about these two issues until you are blue in the face. And set the example for others! Simply wearing seatbelts and driving at a reasonable speed will reduce LODDs dramatically.

Finally, although the BLS/ALS is great, I think we can improve on medical services by learning how to “self treat” and provide BLS to wounded colleagues. I’m happy to see a lot of focus on carrying compresses and tourniquets and other paraphernalia that will slow down the flow of blood after a serious injury. Take advantage of these items and have them with you all the time. It goes without saying—but I’ll say it anyway—training and instilling a basic self-treat mindset is an absolute necessity.

So let’s do some round numbers. Assuming 2010 will generate 150 LODDs, how can we reduce that number by 51 and get “Below 100?”  I think we could instantly reduce the numbers by 30 by having everyone buckle up all the time. Period, end of story. That brings us down to 120. I think the number of our officers killed by gunfire could be reduced if cops recognized threats more quickly, had a quick John Boyd OODA (observe, orient, decide, act) loop in their head, retreated when necessary, and knew how to get sufficient rounds downstream with accuracy during a gun fight. This can be pretty much summed up by embracing the WIN (What’s Important Now?) concept of Below 100. I’m pulling this number out of the air here, but I believe we can reduce those deaths by 10.

We have 10 more to reduce, so let’s focus on situational awareness when outside of our vehicle on or near a roadway. See for some great control measures in this arena. Remember: Complacency kills! So according to my math if we drove slower, wore the belts religiously, were aware of approaching and passing traffic, and approached every person we contact knowing we may have to make a massive withdrawal of “memory markers” to eliminate the threat—and when we do these things consistently—I’m absolutely convinced we can break the 100 barrier.

I also look to you for your thoughts. I’m just an old retired guy who’s tired of bagpipe music and after-action reports. If you have some thoughts, share them with Stockton and the good people at Law Officer. Working together we can break the “Below 100” barrier.

Until I see you again, please take the time to work safely.


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