FEATURED IN BELOW 100
There will be 50 fewer families making the painful walk to the candlelight ceremonies at Police Week this year. To put this in perspective, here’s a snapshot of the last three years according to our partners at the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP.org):
- 2010: 176
- 2011: 176
I’ve attended more than a dozen candlelight ceremonies during Police Week and the most sobering time is when the buses filled with survivors begin to arrive for the candlelight ceremony at the Memorial. Bus after bus filled with families that all have one thing in common: They're here to honor their loved one(s) who died in the line of duty. It’s a trip that none of them expected to make and one that they will never forget. Many are visibly stunned as they walk down the line of Class A uniformed officers while holding onto the arm of an escort officer. Some are older and are there for their son or daughter. Some are not yet teenagers and are there for their mom or dad. I've often felt guilty about feeling thankful that my family never had to make that walk.
As terrible as the individual losses are, the 2012 LODD total of 120 officers represents a major step forward for law enforcement. It’s not an acceptable number because no line-of-duty death will ever be OK, especially to the family who experiences the loss. But the fact that we've been able to drive down the LODD number so significantly through commonsense efforts and use of safety equipment should be encouraging to everyone. And it should underscore the need to fully embrace a common sense approach to officer survival.
I came into law enforcement during the 70s, at a time when the number of LODDs numbered more than 270. That number was driven down sharply by a series of events. Specifically:
- Body armor became practical and its use began spreading across the country.
- Officer safety shifted from process to an awareness that we had to be aware of criminal violence. Remember the book, “Street Survival"? It was a game changer for me and thousands of other officers. This book and the training based on terrible losses of those times (check out the Newhall article by Eric Dickinson) resulted in practical training that equipped officers to deal with the realities of the street.
- Advanced in-field medical capability in the form of paramedics. The ability to provide critical care in the field has saved thousands of officers. If you know a paramedic, thank them for what they do and have done for our profession.
I believe that what we’re going through right now with training like Below 100 (www.Below100.com) is going to have a similar impact on officer safety and lowering the number of LODDs each year. This is true for other programs that embrace a “predictable is preventable” approach. We do not have to accept the level of losses that we have experienced over the last quarter century when losses have routinely averaged more than 160. It’s time for fundamental change that can be done today!
Police Week is a time to remember the fallen. However, every one of those officers would tell you to not repeat their mistakes. In other words, honor the fallen but train the living! When you objectively look at our losses, there are areas where we can do so much better. Please, for the sake of your family, remember the principles of Below 100:
- Wear your belt. (We lose officers every year in crashes that should have been survivable!)
- Wear your vest. (We continue to lose officers in incidents that would have been survivable with body armor. 2012 was no exception.)
- Watch your speed. (The majority of fatal police crashes are single vehicle and the most common cause was speed too fast for conditions.)
- WIN! – What’s Important Now? (Officers who lose focus or fail to prioritize often pay with their life.)
- Remember: Complacency Kills! (It’s the most insidious of all threats because it leaves you open to everything that can go wrong.)
As you remember those who have paid with their lives, constructively ask yourself where you’re vulnerable and address it – now! Do you need to get in shape, increase your awareness during traffic stops or start wearing your armor? Whatever it is for you – do it! And, better yet, have a conversation with a friend or partner and tell them what you’re doing. You’ll be more likely to continue the practice. Consider the families who made that trip to the National Memorial this year and commit yourself to making sure that your loved ones don’t have to make that terrible walk.
Don’t do it for you. Do it for them.