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A Violent Year

You and I know better.  Our insight into reality is based on direct contact with violence and violent people so I won’t attempt to sugarcoat this…  It is dangerous out there and violently abound.  I am not, and you shouldn’t either, be placated or “reassured” that crime is down in any way, shape or form.  The bare fact is that police officer deaths are up 17% based on data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.  Police deaths due to gunfire are up 20%.  Those stats don’t lie.

The only good thing out of the year end statistics are that traffic related deaths are down 13%.  If not for that, it would truly be a very tough year for LE.

One is Too Many

I’ve attended enough police officer funerals for officers killed in the line of duty to know I’d rather not have to attend another.  Much better is to attend an elderly retired officer’s funeral at the end of long life.  And yet more officers are being killed than in the ten years since 2001 (70 officers killed in 2001, 65 officers this year so far).

Regardless by Brothers and Sisters in Blue, one officer is far too many.

"Those of us who maintain a dangerous lifestyle will experience fear and anxiety. But, to do so, allows us to join a fraternity of those who have, since the beginning of man's time, endured...They endured. We endured. It is the cost of the privilege of such company."

Paul Whitesell, PhD

Circumstances

According to FBI stats for 2010: 14 officers were killed in arrest situations; 7 in vehicle pursuits; 6 handling disturbance calls and; 15 in ambush.

Veteran law enforcement trainer Paul Whitesell (Superintendant Indiana State Police) has pointed out that since time immortal police officers have been killed in the line of duty because:

  • They can’t shoot
  • They can’t fight
  • They can’t drive
  • They can’t talk to people in excitable conditions

As a trainer I believe those numbers are still true and form the core of our responsibility at skill acquisition and maintenance.  Quite simply you must acquire and then maintain these perishable skills throughout your law enforcement career.

I would add that an increasing number of officers are being targeted in ambush assaults.  USA Today reported on this trend in August with 40% of officers killed in ambushes at that time.

Like Virginia Tech Police Officer Deriek Crouse who was killed by some uninvolved whack job as he sat behind the wheel of his patrol car on a traffic stop, ambush assaults on uniformed police officers are tough to prevent.  After all we’re in uniform, drive around in highly marked vehicles and must respond to calls made by homicidal suspects with ambush on their minds.  Further we hang around the “cop shop” and walk to and from the station to our personal cars parked nearby.  Whether it’s an EDP – emotional disturbed person, intent on a confrontation to commit “suicide by cop” (and is perfectly willing to kill an officer in the encounter) or a kidnap and rape suspect who assaulted a Detroit Police Substation wounding four officers in January of this year, we are Target Blue.

To address this ambush threat we must:

  • Have our head in the game scanning our environment for threats whenever in uniform
  • Continue to scan even when writing citations or reports while seated in our patrol car
  • Do not roll-up to suspicious pedestrians while seated in our vehicles or allow them to approach us while seated
  • Work Contact/Cover with partners and other officers so a copper is always scanning for additional threats
  • Avoid routine – always approaching the driver’s side of a stopped vehicle, sitting at the same booth while taking lunch, parking at the same place to write reports
  • Stop away from a call location.  Pause and scan before exiting, when debussing and as you walk toward the house or location
  • Exercise caution while in foot pursuit.  A “hasty” ambush by a fleeing suspect can be around the next corner.  Don’t follow the suspect’s direct path and “slice the pie” or “quick peek” when dealing with blind corners
  • Understand chokepoints (areas where you are slowed and channelized in your vehicle or on foot) and police rich target areas (times and situations when several officers are congregated together)

I marvel and am saddened when other trainers and I make recommendations and are blown off by officers as being: paranoid, over-cautious, unrealistic, Tackleberry’s, on and on.  It seems that officers want to reassure themselves that their skills, plan and mental preparedness are good to go when they’re not.  Of course, it is not human nature to enjoy being told your skills are lacking and you’ve got your head up your tokus (Yiddish word meaning buttocks).

In the worst of moments when you’re in a fight for your life, don’t you want everything advantage and tool with which to save your life?  Further, if a little awareness avoids disaster isn’t it well worth it?

Surviving and winning out over a violent murderous assault will be the proof that all your preparations, planning and mental edge were worth it.  Losing your life is one heck of a cost for lack of attentiveness, disregard for threats and poor training.

The year is coming to a close and I pray that we suffer no more officer deaths or injuries but I know from personal experience and the experiences of many LE friends and associates that the mental edge couple with sound tactics employed by a highly skilled officer is the best way to prevent assaults.  So for this coming New Year I would pray for a “Below 100” total and would join with my fellow trainers in pursuit of such an important goal.  I also know that the way to get there is through sweat and toil with your head always in the game.  I’ve lost track of the number of officers who, having survived and prevailed over a deadly threat looked me in the eye and said, “My training saved my life.”

 

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About The Author:

Kevin Davis is a full-time officer assigned to the training bureau where he specializes in use of force, firearms and tactical training. With over 23 years in law enforcement, his previous experience includes patrol, corrections, narcotics and he is a former team leader and lead instructor for his agency's SWAT team with over 500 call-outs in tactical operations.

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