As the National Police Week Memorial Service approached last May, I decided to research how many officers would be honored this year. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 145 men and women died in the line of duty in 2006 (figures as of March 22, 2007.
What the data showed really took me by surprise. It's hard to believe, but more officers died in vehicle-related incidents than are shot, stabbed, or beaten combined. 52 of those 145 brave men and women were shot. But a truly surprising 45 died in auto accidents, 11 in motorcycle accidents, three in aircraft, two in bicycle mishaps, 15 were struck by a vehicle, one was stabbed and another was beaten. That's 78 deaths by means other than shooting, which I surely thought would be far and away the number one cause of line of duty deaths.
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. There've been three reports in three days from our news media coverage area about incidents involving vehicles. It causes one to ponder.
How much attention do officers pay to traffic as they work accidents? Could more care be exercised when on a stop? I certainly can see being totally focused on a felony arrest as vehicles zing by, and am concerned about the position in which officers find themselves. Still...
I've also begun to wonder whether such focus also impacts the speed at which emergency services folks drive while responding, and if minds are so filled with what's ahead that perhaps defensive driving techniques become a memory.
I vividly recall my academy instructors jamming home the point that it's more important to GET to a scene than to set a land speed record getting there. I also wonder how many of my classmates (and I) forget that in the adrenaline rush of hitting the gas and switching on the lights and siren.
My heart goes out to the families of the officers killed recently in vehicle crashes, as well as those who were remembered in May. One day I hope to be able to join in the candlelight vigil and the service itself. When that day comes, I pray that it's a year when few, if any, new names are placed on the memorial. And I commend Concerns of Police Survivors for their great work in supporting family and friends left behind.
In the meantime, I ask all of you to remember that such things don't always happen to the other guy. Please think NOW about what goes through your mind in terms of response speed and attention to other drivers. Work at keeping your safety along the roadside in mind, hard as that may be, while making an arrest or working an accident.
As a pastor, I hear all the time about practicing what I preach. Law enforcement preaches defensive driving. Apparently there needs to be more effort to put it into practice ourselves.
Be careful out there.