As I write this, 150 of our American brothers and sisters have died in the line of duty so far in 2011; fifty nine by felonious gunfire, seven by physical assault, nine by heart attacks, fifty six in vehicle related incidents. There were also duty-related illnesses, aircraft crashes, drownings, training accidents, even a fatal animal attack. Total LEO fatalities are up more than 12% over last year. We’re going to be hearing and reading so much over the next several months about this past year and what we can do better in the future, but what can you do right now?
First of all, inform yourself and your co-workers. Do you really know how many law enforcement officers die in the line of duty each year and how they lose their lives? We often ask our students (most of them working police officers) how many cops they believe die in the line of duty each year in the United States. We hear everything from “ten” to “1000.” Subscribe to the Officer Down Memorial Page’s “LODD Email Notification” so that you know about each and every death. You also need to know how many officers are assaulted, and most importantly, how many of those officers win! Read the annual Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) summary put out by the FBI and discuss it at roll call. Learn from our fallen as well as our winners, and share that knowledge with others.
Let yourself feel. It’s okay to be angry, sad, frustrated, even frightened or uncertain. Just because you weren’t personally on the scene of an officer-involved fatality or attended the funeral doesn’t mean you aren’t affected by it. Law enforcement is a family, we are all connected. As a trainer and author, I take every LEO death personally; most survival trainers do the same. We’re always wondering what else we could have done. Don’t ignore those emotions; in fact, use what you’re feeling to motivate yourself and others. Reach out to each other, and don’t forget dispatchers, records clerks, police spouses, anyone who is touched by the tragedy of line of duty deaths. We need to embrace our emotions and reach out to one another.
Recognize and accept that this is a dangerous job. Dr. Sally Satel, M.D. is the author of “One Nation Under Therapy” among many other books, and is a noted expert on the psychological impact of both combat and disaster on military personnel and first responders. She has conducted research indicating that accepting the risky nature of one’s job is one of the keys to helping prevent post traumatic stress disorder after a critical incident occurs. She believes that the more you feel prepared for that risky task, the better you’ll be able to deal with the aftermath of a critical incident; in other words, you need training, and you need practice.
Take responsibility for your own safety and survival. My husband Dave Smith (AKA: JD Buck Savage) often talks about “The Conspiracy of Safety” in his officer survival classes. We must “conspire together” as individuals committed to our own safety and survival. Don’t wait for the department to send you to training, seek it out on your own. Conduct a self-assessment of your own skills and abilities, and fix what needs to fixed, whether it’s your firearms skills, your physical fitness, or your mindset. Take a look at your tools and equipment too, do you clean your pistol after every qualification, do you check your TASER, your baton, and your handcuffs for wear and tear? What about your body armor, does it fit properly, do you take care of it, do you replace it when it’s expired, and do you wear it consistently? A good friend of mine just visited a one of the largest cities in this nation, a city where cops regularly get shot and sometimes killed. She saw a local uniformed officer on his lunch break take his body armor off and hang it on his chair before he sat down to eat. Unacceptable and frankly, irresponsible. Examine your own habits, ask yourself if you’ve become complacent, and then make some changes. Chances are your positive actions will influence others, making everyone safer.