The Deadliest Job in Policing

A cop who is writing a ticket outside his car is 400% more likely to die than a cop who is inside his car. That isn't a projection or a theory. Those are names on the Wall.


Recently, I had the experience of preparing for an in-service class for an agency in South Florida. The subject matter was teaching them the tactical and practical implications of moving from handwritten traffic tickets to using of handheld computers (a/k/a ticket writers). The students were all seasoned cops in the traffic unit.

I am not going to name the department because it could be any one of many agencies across the country. Putting the finger on their officers is also inconsequential. I've been witness to similar attitudes and behaviors in dozens of departments. These guys could have come from anywhere. So, as cops, they are not unique. They are like most of the rest of us.

To be fair, these cops are special to me. They are my friends. I know them now. I have a personal stake in seeing them survive and succeed. They were good students: they showed up on time, they were sober and they stayed awake for most of the class. What more could an instructor ask?

So, What's Up?

The material that I want to cover could easily start looking like a course in statistics that is written by a mathemagician. I will do my best to avoid that outcome.

Policing is a craft that is passed from one generation to the next. No matter how many hundreds of hours recruits sit on their collective butts in a classroom at a community college or academy, the REAL learning happens when a veteran officers shows the rookie how it gets done in real life. That's how I learned most everything that I value today.

There are widely-held perceptions in coppery about where the risks are - and where they aren't. Those perceptions are treated as reality. Training has been built around them. Equally important, we cops have internalized them so that they are ingrained in our behaviors.

The facts, numbers and statistics of today indicate that our perceptions don't match what has become reality. The mismatch is stealing the lives of good cops - needlessly.

What Are We Thinking?

Like most cops, I have thought about the possibility of being killed in the line of duty. What picture comes to mind?

I imagine being hit by a round in a hail of bullets exchanged with bad guys out on the street somewhere. I'd be protecting someone. I'd be fighting the good fight. I would give my life to save the life of a brother officer or an innocent citizen.

Who can forget the bank robbery in North Hollywood in 1997?

No one will ever forget Columbine High School.

More recently, there was the active shooter at the Westroads Mall in Omaha on December 5, 2007. One of my closest friends was the first sergeant to arrive on scene.

2009 gave witness to the horrible killings of four cops on a single incident in Oakland, CA.

Just weeks later, three officers made the ultimate sacrifice in Pittsburgh, PA.

These were widely seen and known by nearly everyone. Each was a classic situation where there was a Blaze of Glory.

That's what we cops generally think about when we consider the risks of our work. It's the mental image that conjures in our minds when we consider the possibility of our own End of Watch. It is, by definition, a heroic scenario.

Training Supports That Picture

We can examine training both at the academy level and ongoing in-service programs. Great amounts of time are spent teaching tactics, i.e. tactical entry, weapon retention, interview stance, physical control / fighting, and the value of using the 1.5 interview position. We stand to the side of a door when knocking. The list goes on.

I am a very strong proponent of training hard and using what I've learned on the street. When on patrol, I'm all business. Talk nice, think mean, are words learned early that have stuck with me. When in contact with a subject, always be thinking about how you can defeat him, was a shocking notion at first, but has proven valuable time and time again.

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