Many of us have experience with injured on duty (IOD). Thankfully, most of the IOD occurrences are minor. We fill out reports only to cover our butts, or our supervisor orders us to complete the form just in case anything more serious results from the injury somewhere down the road. The fact is most of us accept injuries as part of the job. High stress events - chasing suspects on foot, wrestling and subduing non-compliant subjects - it’s all part of police work.
Recently, the Force Science® Institute Limited (FSI) issued a report (#207) about law enforcement officers who suffer injuries on the job. I was intrigued and surprised by some of the findings in the report; I think you will be, too. At the recent IACP Conference in Chicago, Lt. Adrienne Quigley, Arlington County, VA PD, and Dr. Alexander Eastman, deputy medical director, Dallas, TX PD presented their findings on this ground-breaking study funded by the DOJ. The two researchers also sat down with FSI to share their findings. Some of their results appear below:
- Training exercises were second only to making an arrest as the activity most often engaged in at the time of injury, with in-service training proving especially risky
- Some 18% of officer injuries posed a risk of "significant external hemorrhage," putting cops in the 99th percentile of all occupations for this danger
- Of officers injured in vehicle crashes during emergency responses, more than three-fourths had five years or less on the job
- Across all activity categories, motorcycle crashes, while among the least common occurrences, produced the highest average of lost work days per incident (28.4)
This admittedly first step in monitoring LE injuries needs more work and a refined reporting system. Nevertheless, this initial look at how we become injured is remarkable. Here is a snapshot of what Quigley and Alexander found.
The pair looked at 9,746 officers; 1,285 injuries were reported by that group (about 13 per 100 officers). The most serious was a motorcycle crash, resulting in death. A third of the injuries required transportation to a hospital; 17 of those transported wound up being admitted. Those in patrol were most likely to be injured. (No surprise there).
Almost half the injuries were sprains, strains and soft-tissue tears. The remainders were contusions, lacerations and exposure to blood borne pathogens. The lowest percentage of injuries, 3% or less, were spread out among broken bones, chronic injuries to heart, lungs, or back, dislocations, knife punctures or gunshot wounds.
So, how do we most often injure ourselves? Making arrests amounted to 24% of the total, while training constituted 13%, vehicle accidents 11%, foot chases 6%, slips and falls 6%.
Inasmuch as I am a trainer, the fact that so many injuries occur during this activity caught my attention. The study sheds light on the importance of being fit. The research indicated there are certain “areas of vulnerability.” Eastman and Quigley advised that of the number of officers injured during training, only 17% exercised sufficiently on a daily basis, despite the fact that more than half of them reported they participate in a fitness program on a regular basis.
In-service training accounted for the majority of training injuries (65%). The officers most often injured were veterans involved in DT and PT activities. The majority of the injuries were confined to strains and sprains (70%). A high percentage of officers hurt during training activities did not participate in a fitness program and eschewed warming up and/or stretching prior to the ins-service training.
The next information that interested me concerned foot pursuits. I sensed there was a correlation between time on the job and injuries. Officers with 5 years or less on the job had 65% of the injuries reported. As their time and experience grew, their injury rate decreased. (That’s called experience and patience). Most of the injuries were the result of responding to in-progress calls, e.g., burglaries, larcenies and auto thefts, as well as suspicious and/or wanted subjects. Most of these injuries were strains and sprains, with just over a third of the IOD officers needing transport to hospitals, surgeries and the need for time off from work.
So what’s the takeaway from this landmark study? It seems clear that we’re on our way to quantifying and demonstrating the importance of being fit, whereas before we could only speculate or give anecdotal evidence. Granted, the study monitored less than 1% of all LEOs, but I believe this study produced a thumbnail sketch of what’s happening on the street. The authors feel a reporting system similar to the FBI’s LEOKA annual report is required to track injury patterns and how to prevent them. I agree.
Moreover, the importance of having a department fitness program, one that is enforceable and monitored, is of paramount importance. The cost effectiveness of fit programs is undeniable, when compared to the money and time lost for IODs. If you have a fitness regime - stick to it. If not, please begin one - NOW.
Stay safe, brothers and sisters!
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About The Author:
John M. Wills spent 33 years in law enforcement as a Chicago Police Officer and FBI Special Agent (Ret). He is a Freelance Writer and Speaker whose third book, TARGETED, is now available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Contact John through his website: www.johnmwills.com.