According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in Washington D.C., the numbers this year are staggering. The mid-year report shows that as of June 30, 2009, 26 cops have died in automobile crashes. That compares with 19 cops at the same point last year. This is 37% more deaths.
Focus on that number: 37%
Now, let's make it human. At mid-year, 7 more cops have died in crashes than at the same time last year. This year, there have been:
7 more flag-draped coffins
7 more pipers playing Amazing Grace at a graveside
7 more families grieving the loss of their husband, father, brother, son, wife, mother, sister or daughter
7 more cop families of co-workers who are dealing with a tragedy they did not earn or deserve
7 more names to be read at the Final Roll Call at next year's Candlelight Vigil
7 more cops who gave everything
WERE THEIR LIVES STOLEN FROM THEM?
That is the question of eternal discussion. There has been much speculation about the fact that vehicle related incidents have been the leading cause of officer deaths for the last twelve years. Other causes of death have declined while these continue to rise.
We spend countless hours training in fighting and surviving assaults. We learn how to grapple, face a blade, use the Taser and fight with our deadly force weaponry. But the numbers are clear: cops are far less likely to die in an assault than they are a car wreck.
Where is the training to prevent that?
How many agencies routinely provide EVOC training to their existing crew? The answer (unfortunately) is very few. It is expensive. It chews up otherwise good vehicles. It often requires overtime, which few of today's law enforcement budgets can afford.
Yet, this is the where and how cops - our brothers and sisters - are dying on the street.
If we fail to act, then to some extent, we have become complicit. We standby while watching our young people - our most precious treasure - get routinely slaughtered.
THE ROOT CAUSES
For a long time, I have taken the position that a major cause of these deaths is failure to develop and deliver training to keep up with the rapid expansion of technology in the patrol car. There is a training gap. Cops are NOT being taught the tactical implications of its use. Therefore, the technology has the potential to result in widespread distracted driving. This isn't the fault of the technology; it's the fault of the agency that fails to provide the necessary training.
Add the need to drive fast under certain circumstances when conditions are less than ideal and it becomes the perfect storm. A cop who is driving hard loses control and is killed in a one-car crash with a tree or utility pole. Some of them burn to death. Others lie in a vegetative state until the family pulls the plug. For most, death is instant. However it comes, it is never welcomed.
I overheard a law enforcement administrator in conversation with his second-in-command recently. The chief lamented that on his way to a certain event he had observed five officers from his agency who were driving. All of them had a cell phone glued to their heads.
The administrator was not pleased. His instinct was to issue a general order forbidding the use of a phone, the computer, etc. whenever the car was in motion.
While admirable, it will not work. It is a knee-jerk reaction. It fails to recognize that in today's environment, cops are mandated to stay in constant contact with a variety of people. This plan fails to recognize that many times dispatch sends cops on calls using only the computer. It disables an officer's ability to know who he is dealing with on a traffic stop before approaching the vehicle.
These technologies have become engrained in coppery today.
An administrator who has been off the road for a scant five years has probably never experienced the enormous role that technology plays in most cop cars today. The guy at the top is even less likely to really understand.