In many U.S. law enforcement agencies, it isn't uncommon for one in five officers to file worker's compensation claims in a given year. And most of these claims are valid.
The great majority of officer injuries are not caused by resisting suspects. They are caused by the inherent hazards that we face on the job and hardly ever worry about. The very nature of our job puts our bodies at risk. But there are ways that we can improve our odds and prevent debilitating and nagging injuries.
It starts with our training and our preparation. By improving our mental and physical conditioning, adopting good safety practices, and planning ahead of time, we can minimize the likelihood of on-the-job.
Here's some tips to help you avoid joining the ranks of the walking wounded.
Your duty belt and all the gear that it holds may be hurting your back. If your agency allows it, seek out a better belt. If your agency doesn't permit you to select your own belt, maybe your doctor can give you a prescription for a new, more supportive duty belt that will minimize the likelihood of you suffering chronic back injuries.
Another major source of back injury is overestimating your strength. Even a strong back is not an invincible one. Don't sacrifice yourself for others at least when it comes to dirtbags. I worked with two healthy deputies who injured their backs in literally bending over backward to avoid injuring a resistive suspect. One of the deputies was eventually medically retired because of the injuries.
Even little, seemingly inconsequential, things can make a big difference in your health as you age on the job.
Consider your patrol unit's driver side window. Driving at higher speeds with the windows down can damage your hearing. True, an open window can help you listen for cries for help, shots fired, or even some tweaker yelling at his buddy to "Stash that shit!" But if you're rolling hard on a call, roll up your windows. Too much exposure to wind rushing into your ears and traffic and highway noise might mean the difference between your needing a hearing aid at 55 or at 85.
When you arrive at the scene of a call in an unfamiliar area, take a second and get to know the lay of the land. This is good advice regardless of whether you work in a big city or a suburb.
Look both high and low when you move. If you keep your eyes high and never look down, odds are you'll step on a rake or a cinder block or something that can get you hurt. And if you keep your eyes glued to the ground, you may be taken down by a low-hanging tree branch. These hazards are much more difficult to negotiate in the dark.
It follows that if you're working an area where you're apt to be on foot for vast stretches of time—either due to foot pursuits or the number of calls that take you to areas not accessible to your patrol car such as tenements and apartment complexes—then do some prior reconnoitering of the area.
Also, look out for your fellow patrol officers by sharing information about the hazards that you find. You may even be able to get the hazard removed. For example, knowing about the abandoned refrigerator that lies around the blind corner of dope-runners alley is fine, but it's better to have an abatement team cite property owners for such landscape deathtraps that hinder your ability to safely do your job.
Finally, not all debilitating injuries happen in the street. Be aware of the subtle aggravations that computer work places on your body. Strive to work in an ergonomically supportive environment. Maintain good posture and avoid back and neck stress. Take frequent breaks to avoid eye strain. And consider using voice-recognition software that can streamline report writing and minimize hand and wrist pain from typing and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Nowhere in your job description does it say that you need to get bruised and battered, particularly at your own hands or feet. But you wouldn't know that by the way some of our fearless brethren go about their business.
Don't be reckless and needlessly join the walking wounded. That will make you hate your job. You'll end up riding a desk and answering telephone calls that exhaust your patience and lead you to snap at the callers. The citizen complaints that will be filed against you because of your foul temper will do more than add insult to injury. They will hurt your career
Finally, always keep in mind this common sense prescription for avoiding injury: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.