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NLEOMF: Work Left to be Done in Preventing LODDs

Preliminary officer fatality statistics released by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund this week show both positive and negative trends in regards to line-of-duty deaths.

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There were a total of 51 LODDs in the first six months of the year -- a 9 percent increase compared to the same period in 2012. Despite the increase in total deaths, there was decreases in several areas and has been considered to be positive progress.

NLEOMF Chairman and CEO Craig Floyd spoke to about the data from the report and what is being done to prevent on-duty deaths as well as enhance the safety of officers.

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"They are certainly alarming numbers as always. Seemingly, numbers are always in the hundreds of deaths (per year). It's something that can no longer be termed 'acceptable,' " he said.

Floyd said that many groups have partnered to try to the yearly total of line of duty deaths below 100 for the first time since 1944, and to work toward the ultimate goal of zero LODDs.

"It's not that far-fetched. I was at Canada's memorial service last year and they only honored one officer in their country who died the prior year."

A Look at the Numbers

Aside the uptick in total deaths, there were some positive developments noted in the report. Both traffic- and firearms-related deaths saw steep declines in the first half of 2013.

The 18 recorded traffic related-deaths -- the number one cause of line of duty deaths over the past six months -- is the lowest it's been in 34 years.

"(Traffic related-deaths) has certainly been a problem area for us. It's has been the number one category of deaths of officers over the last 15 years, so there's some encouraging news there," he said. "In regards to firearms related deaths, the news is even better. We're obviously making some inroads in the area of preventing firearms-related fatalities for officers."

The 17 officers killed by firearms is the lowest six-month total in 57 years, according to the report.

One of the trouble spots so far this year was in the "Other" category, which includes a number of causes including stabbings and training mishaps. The main cause is that category was job-related illnesses, accounting for 10 officer deaths. There were only two such deaths recorded in the first half of last year.

"Mostly we're talking about heart attacks," he said. "Officers in high-stress situations can succumb to heart attacks. Stress sometimes does kill, and that certainly was true during the first half of this year."

Working to Prevent LODDs

Floyd said that an Officer Safety and Wellness working group has been created through the Attorney General's Office that looks at issues including the physical and mental fitness of officers and is comprised of about 40 law enforcement experts and practitioners.

"We can't ignore the fact that heart attacks are a big danger to law enforcement officers because of the stress of the job," he said. "We also can't ignore the fact that suicide is a big problem. These are issues that are being tackled, in some cases really for the first time in a very serious way. We're going to see tremendous progress in those areas."

He said that work is also being done to prevent officer injuries -- which average 100,000 cases per year.

Through the combined efforts of the NLEOMF, the Attorney General, the Department of Justice, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and various other law enforcement organizations, Floyd said that a lot is being done to change the culture in order to prevent injury and death.

Changing the Culture

Floyd said that an effort needs to be made to alter the way society think about law enforcement safety -- and that starts officers on the job.

"No longer should any officer's death or injury be accepted as just simply 'part of the job,' " he said. "We've become accustomed to more than 100 officers being killed every year. We just accept it and don't do enough to prevent it."

The NLEOMF's leader believes that once the mindset of officers, trainers, lawmakers and others is changed, more emphasis will be put on officer safety.

"Once we start digging deep and focusing in laser-like fashion on making it safer for our officers in all aspects of the job, we will in fact see a continued significant decline in law enforcement fatalities."