Lessons Learned from the NLEOMF 2014 Mid-Year Officer Fatalities Report

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) just released its 2014 Mid-Year Law Enforcement Officer Fatalities Report, which details all line-of-duty deaths (LODDs) so far this year.  As always, this research is very telling, and has some serious implications for those of us who are serving.  As you review the report (by clicking on the banner or report title above), take a few moments to reflect on a few lessons that come to mind.  Perhaps there are other points you would like to share in the comments below.

1. Age (and years of service) ain’t nothing but a number.

Yeah, I just went all 1994 R. Kelly on you…well, at least some of you will get it.  The point is that none of us is exempt from the reality of LODDs.  The age range this year is from 22 with less than a year of service to 69 with over 40 years of service.  The average is 42 with 13 years of service.  I don’t want to imply that any of these deaths are related to complacency, and I will stress that point later, but it is a good reminder that none of us should allow ourselves to become complacent.  No matter our level of skill, training, or years of experience, we must always be vigilant.  No call is routine.

2. We still aren’t keeping up with officer suicides.

I know this is a touchy subject, but I have to go here.  According to Chaplain Rob Michaels with Serve & Protect (a national crisis hotline for America’s first responders), somewhere between 4 and 10 times as many officers die each year from suicide as do in the line of duty.  Keeping accurate statistics is difficult, and nowhere are retired officers who still carry of the baggage of their careers included.  We still carry around the stigma of mental illness not only for those we serve, but for ourselves as well.  That fact is one reason I so appreciate the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT-Memphis Model) training, as I had the privilege to share at an area graduation for new CIT officers.  We must address the issue of mental health not only for those we are serving, but also for our own.  The good news, according to Rob, is that the hotline receives over 400 calls a month from those needing assistance.  We are becoming educated and aware, and we are reaching out for help.  I still would like to see an accurate count and greater awareness in this area.

By the way, Rob Michaels will be speaking on Friday, October 17, 2014 at this year’s FCPO National Conference in Chattanooga, TN.  Click on the banner for more details, the flyer, the line-up of great speakers including Covered LE’s Jonathan Parker, and to register.

3. Trainers and trainees need to take EVOC more seriously.

The report points out that traffic-related incidents were the leading cause of death so far this year – for the second year in a row.  By saying we need to take Emergency Vehicle Operations Courses more seriously, I am not implying that we don’t take them seriously now.  But we can always do more and do it better.  If we’re honest with ourselves, many times EVOC becomes just another in-service class we have to get through because we’ve been forced to review it.  And when we drive…yeah, that’s part of our problem.  We race each other and test our limits and act like a bunch of cops.  Testing our limits is not bad if we learn those limits and don’t exceed them on the streets.  The problem is that we push the limits on the streets when conditions are different from the training environment and much less than favorable.  And many times, we push the limits when it really isn’t necessary.  So what’s the answer?  Keep reading…

4. The Below 100 initiative is more than just a good idea.

Several years ago, Law Officer Magazine presented Below 100 – an initiative to reduce LODDs by focusing on 5 Tenets.  The premise is that we will never eliminate deaths because of the nature of the profession.  Some deaths simply aren’t preventable.  But, their research pointed out several factors that could prevent deaths.  If we eliminated the “preventable” deaths, we could get the LODD numbers below 100.  Since the inception of the initiative, Covered Law Enforcement has been a supporter and has worked to increase awareness, and the initiative is working.  Sure, we are focused on your spiritual well-being, but we don’t want you to “meet your Maker” any sooner than necessary!  Just for review (but please visit the website or attend a training), here are the 5 tenets:

    • Wear your seatbelt – Nobody ever got ambushed at 30+ mph, and no research hasBelow 100 5 Tenets shown any officer got killed because he/she was trapped by a seatbelt.  Get the facts…and wear your seatbelt.
    • Wear your vest – If you have been fortunate enough to have been issued body armor, wear it!  So what if you get a little hot or uncomfortable.  At least you’ll have a significantly greater chance of going home.  Several officers just this year have already been saved by their vests.
    • Watch your speed – Slow down!  Arrive alive!  Do the math and you’ll see that those extra 10-20 mph won’t make that much of a difference in arrival time, but could be the difference in maintaining control of your patrol vehicle or braking distance.
    • W.I.N. – Train yourself to ask, “What’s Important Now?”  Follow your training, follow your instincts, and focus on the most important decisions.
    • Remember, complacency kills! – Simple enough.  Train and stay vigilant.

5. We have to figure out physical fitness and heart health.

Job-related illnesses, and specifically heart attacks, rose drastically.  I’m still relatively young, but I have a family history of heart disease.  I’ve always been in pretty good shape and I eat well, but it took a serious back injury that was at least in part the result of a work-related incident in late 2013 to really get me going.  Well, I also have to give credit to the constant reminders from a ministry partner that the bad guys are training even when we aren’t.  Don’t wait until it’s too late to start making even small changes to improve your health.

My department offers a voluntary fitness program that rewards officers with annual comp-time for successfully completing an annual fitness assessment.  The city also offers an employee wellness center with workout facilities and health and nutrition programs.  I’d like to see more and more-frequent rewards, incentives, and compensation for officers to get healthy and stay that way.  Either way, we have to get serious about our health.  There are resources, and challenges, and other opportunities out there.  Perhaps our readers could share more about how they get moving and stay active given the difficult hours and eating habits.

6. Overall, we are doing better than any other time in recent history.

I saved this for last so that we can end on a positive note.  We train to win, and win we shall.  The report shows that numbers are higher than last year, but they are lower than the previous 40-50 years.  There is no black cloud of doom hanging over law enforcement professionals.  Thousands and thousands of officers complete their shifts successfully every day.  We don’t have to live in fear, and neither do our families.  Sometimes we focus so much on the fatalities that we create anxiety among the ranks.  The stress of it all really takes its toll on our spouses and children.  In the end, we train, do our best, and leave the rest to God.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy (and by no means do I want to diminish the seriousness and importance of LODDs), is that thousands of law enforcement families are becoming casualties of the profession.  But, there’s even good news here as well.  God is raising up ministries like Covered Law Enforcement and our partners at Badge of Hope Ministries to bring health and healing to law enforcement families.

Brothers and sisters, be safe out there!  Take time to review the NLEOMF report, pass this information along, and encourage those around you.  Policing is a noble calling…serve well!

– Jonathan

P.S. If you have been blessed by this post or our ministry, consider partnering with us on our “Pay it Forward” fundraising campaign.  We are asking for 100 people to give at least $25 as we sponsor officers to attend several upcoming faith-building conferences and continue to distribute resources to officers nation-wide.  Click on the banner to make your tax-deductible gift today!

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