It’s that time of year again folks, but this year we have a HUGE difference to take into consideration: so far (as of 12/10/13 @ 1130 eastern) we have lost 96 officers to line of duty deaths this year. 96!! This is the first years for as long as I can remember that we have a real chance to keep our LODDs UNDER 100. And as much as I don’t like to push a competitor’s program, every cop life saved is a good thing! So, let’s keep that in mind and commit ourselves, at the beginning of EVERY shift, to going home alive at the end of the tour of duty. That said, let’s talk about a few things that seem to be more common this time of year that can or do influence our level of safety at work.
Weather: too many of our brother and sister officers die due to traffic accidents and/or at the scene of traffic accidents/incidents. With winter accompanying the holiday season, we have to be out and about when conditions are more slippery or when visibility is reduced (or both). To avoid becoming a victim as a result of either of those concerns, we have to do a few things. First, we have to increase our level of awareness and anticipate where problems or threats may pop up. An area you can’t see because of fog or heavy falling snow can be just as dangerous as the same area in clear weather but in the dark. If you can’t see a given spot in or near your area of operations, you must remain cognizant and you have to clear it as necessary before relaxing your guard with regard to it. Where inclement weather can cause slippery conditions we have to remain aware of not only our own potential to lose traction and fall or slide in our car, but we have to be aware of the potential for others driving or on foot to slide into us. Are you aware of that potential and ready to move out of the way if whatever is coming at you starts coming ballistically (without steerage)?
Increased Impairment: For whatever reason, we tend to see a lot more alcohol consumption during this time of year. We also see an increase in the number of people gathering for family or social events. When you increase the number of people who get together and then you increase the number of them who are getting intoxicated you get a marked increase in the number of conflicts that arise. And we all know how much of an increase we see in domestic disputes this time of year. The mistake we make, if we don’t keep ourselves alert and aware, is lowering our guard as we respond to these domestic calls as compared to the level of alertness we maintain when we go on non-holiday domestic dispute calls. Just because it’s a holiday doesn’t mean the call is any less potentially deadly.
Fatigue & other distractions: As the holiday season kicks into high gear we tend to see an increase in the number of our brothers and sisters who fail to report for their tour of duty. Sometimes that due to family issues; sometimes it’s due to illness (it IS flu season); sometimes it’s due to accidents or other challenges. No matter what the cause, the result is that some of us end up working double shifts. Once you get past ten to twelve hours, fatigue starts to seriously affect your reaction times and your attention span. It is vitally important that you feed your body in a healthy fashion and talk to your shift mates about this reality. Make sure, if you’re working more than your original shift, those you’re working beside know that they need to watch for your potential mistakes. Other distractions might include hunger, missing family, unhappiness with work conditions, etc. Each of these can impact our awareness and attention span and we have to guard against that as much as is humanly possible. It’s unrealistic to think that we can simply ignore or “turn off” those distractions. We’d have to be inhuman to do so.
What To Do: Stay on your game. Get a good night’s sleep every night (or day if you work midnights). Reminder yourself pre-shift EVERY shift to not let your guard down even a little bit and NEVER take anything for granted. If the circumstances lead you to believe that risk might be increased, don’t ignore it. If you’re going on shift and looking forward to or anticipating a quiet slow shift, go take a look in the mirror and give yourself a checkup from the neck up. DO NOT go on shift with a lazy attitude. Live through every shift and go home at the end of every tour of duty whole and hardy.
Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. (or Happy Holidays if the previous are inappropriate).