A Violent Year

Sadly 2011 has been a very violent year for law enforcement. How can we prevent further officer deaths?

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


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)
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