Below 100: Ignoring the obvious only perpetuates the problem
In October 2010, Law Officer launched Below 100, a common-sense officer safety initiative that focuses on areas under an officer's control. The goal: Reduce line-of-duty deaths to fewer than 100 per year, a level not seen since 1944. Why 100? After reviewing thousands of LODD summaries, it was clear that a significant number involved officer culpability and were absolutely preventable. Tough to accept, but no less true.
No one wearing a badge today has ever seen a year when fewer than 100 officers died. If we were serious about reducing LODDs, the goal had to be both challenging and achievable.
A Shift in Culture
Although Below 100 meant a serious shift in law enforcement culture, I wondered if we were being too simplistic with the approach. However, after interacting with thousands of officers across the country, I'm absolutely convinced that we're on the right track. Following are some facts to consider.
- Vehicle-related incidents have claimed the lives of more cops than gunfire for 14 of the last 15 years. So far, 2013 is continuing that trend with vehicle-related losses 50% greater than losses due to gunfire.
- An exhaustive National Highway Transportation Safety Administration study (released in 2011) examined 733 fatal police crashes and found that:
- Half were single-vehicle crashes—only a police car was involved.
- Seatbelts were not in use 42% of the time and another 7% were unknown. (This non-use level of roughly 50% is mirrored in a major study currently underway.)
- The most common cause of the crashes was excessive speed.
- Since 1980, more than 150 officers have died after being ejected from their vehicles. The thought of 150 uniformed officers lying dead on the roadway is sickening to me. Most of these officers would have lived if only they had worn their seatbelts.
- Despite major advances in ballistic fiber technology, officers who would never think of going on-duty without a gun often resist wearing body armor. Every year we lose officers to gunfire when a vest would have saved them. Today's body armor is so good and so effective that there is no reason for an officer to consciously go without.
- Heart attacks are the third most common cause of death among officers. No one is more responsible for an officer's health than that officer. The fourth tenet of Below 100 is W.I.N.—What's important now? This question is key to maintaining good health.
- Whether through ignorance or intent, many officers regularly go without required reflective apparel when directing traffic or performing extended duties on roadways. There's a time to be seen and a time to be in stealth mode. Failing to recognize the difference can be deadly.
Gordon Graham, the authority on police risk management, often points out that it's really hard to stop bad people from behaving badly—that's why we can't eliminate felonious assaults on officers. Vehicle operations, though, are vastly different because officers have a lot of control over how they drive. This doesn't mean that we should blindly accept gunfire losses. But it does mean that even the best of efforts will see limited success. Below 100 targets areas under an officer's control because we can actually effectuate meaningful change.
We must get beyond blaming the bad guy and accept responsibility for our own behavior and mistakes. It's tough—really tough—to objectively question the actions of the fallen. But we must have the wherewithal to honor them by training the living. As a result of Below 100 we now have hundreds of trainers across the country who champion a common-sense approach to officer safety and they're making a difference every day.
As we near the end of 2013, we're on course to see an annual loss even lower than 2012. This is extraordinary: 2012 was itself a 50-year low. I'm extremely proud of the role that Law Officer has played in Below 100 and I challenge all of you to do your part. We can do this. We must do this. As for what happens when the Below 100 goal is reached?
We've only just begun. Stay tuned.