As a police trainer and author, I am constantly studying the circumstances in which law enforcement officers are killed or injured in the line of duty. National Police Week is traditionally a time to reflect on where we’ve been and then look ahead to see where we need to go to enhance officer safety. It’s no secret that American police deaths are on the rise. As of today’s date, we’ve lost 71 law enforcement officers in the line of duty in 2011, and seven of them were female.
The first line of duty death this year occurred on New Year’s Day in Clark County, OH as Deputy Suzanne Hopper was gunned down investigating a “shot fired” call in a rural trailer park. Nineteen days later Miami-Dade Detective Amanda Haworth was shot and killed along with Detective Roger Castillo as their team attempted to serve a homicide warrant. The following week Washington State Department of Corrections Officer Jayme Lee Biendl was strangled to death by an inmate she was guarding inside the prison’s chapel.
In late February, National Park Service Ranger Julie Weir was driving from Pennsylvania to a new post in California when her vehicle collided with a tractor trailer in Nebraska during a heavy snow storm, she died from her injuries. On March 4th, District Administrator Debra Collins of the Missouri Department of Corrections was on her way to a meeting when her vehicle left the roadway and overturned in a ditch, causing fatal injuries. Ten days later San Antonio, TX police officer Stephanie Brown, the daughter of a fellow SAPD officer, was killed when a vehicle traveling the wrong way struck her patrol car head-on. Finally, on April 18th, part-time Bowie County, TX deputy Sherri Jones was shot and killed in the basement of the county courthouse when a male prisoner gained control of her pistol, fatally shot her and then escaped in the transport van.
I spend about half of my work life conducting women’s officer and career survival training, which includes telling the stories of our fallen female heroes is a meaningful way to both honor and remember them. The seven women who have died so far this year varied in age from 27 to 55, with an average of 12.5 years on the job. They left parents, spouses, partners, children, and grandchildren as well as brokenhearted friends, agencies, and communities. Each time a police officer is killed, even as we mourn, we are inspired to strengthen our resolve to improve our own safety and survival and that of those we train, supervise and manage. Here are just of few of the many reminders we need to consider each and every day on this job.
“Don’t Fight Fair!” I know many female officers, myself included, who would rather fight a male offender than another woman. Women have a reputation for “fighting dirty,” pulling hair, scratching, kicking, whatever. As a cop, remember that you’re not expected to “fight fair,” you’re expected to WIN quickly as well as legally and ethically. The faster you can end a physical altercation in your favor, the less likely the odds that you or the offender are going to get hurt. Learn to fight explosively, or as my friend and fellow trainer Hank Hayes says, fight “like a raccoon in a dumpster.” Police use of force isn’t pretty, but that doesn’t mean it has to be “brutal.”. If you’re in a physical fight for your life, by all means, fight like a girl. In other words, use everything you have and more, mentally, physically, and tactically, to win!
“Trust Your Instincts.” Women have great instincts. We have outstanding sensory perception, our brain has a tendency to check in with our gut pretty regularly, and as Gavin deBecker points out in his classic book The Gift of Fear, we should take advantage of and trust our instincts more often than not. If something feels wrong, step up your awareness. Read the whole scene, ask questions, find out why something “feels hinky” or “doesn’t smell right.” If it feels wrong, it probably is. It’s not paranoia if someone really is trying to hurt you, or is thinking about it. Sometimes female police officers will ignore their gut in a mis-guided attempt to prove they’re tough. Disregarding your instincts is foolish, not tough. If you learn to sharpen and trust that “gift of fear,” you’re going to be a safer, and a much better, crimefighter.