Learn from the past, live in the present, look to the future.
As we transition from 2007 to 2008, this wise saying rings truer than ever. The outgoing year is destined to go into the record books as the deadliest year for law enforcement since 1989 (excluding 2001 and 9/11). The National Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation reports that 188 officers were killed in the line of duty during 2007, a startling 30 percent increase over the 2006 total of 145. Police line-of-duty deaths had been trending downward since 2001, but the 2007 total ends that phenomena.
What can we learn from 2007? While it's too early to fully analyze these deaths, there are some eye-opening stats to consider. Preliminary figures say that 69 officers died of gunshot, a 33 percent increase over 2006. Another 83 officers died in traffic incidents, a 14 percent increase over 2006. And 36 died in "other" events, an 80 percent increase over 2006.
In due time, the 2007 deadly incidents will be categorized and analyzed for their causes, along with recommendations for reducing these startlingly high numbers. I say startlingly high, because unlike the deadlier 1970s, when 200 plus police died yearly, today we wear body armor, have better training, and are often saved by sophisticated medical treatment.
So, what's going on here? The answer is something all of law enforcement knows all too well. The streets are growing more dangerous and violent every year. Suspects are becoming increasingly more violent, and they are better armed and more willing to take on police. The most vicious violence, once centered in the large cities, has now spread throughout America, including the once "quiet" suburbs and rural areas.
The tragic multiple shooting that occurred this past Christmas near Mansfield, Ohio, illustrates the magnitude of the violence now directed at law enforcement officers. Around 1 a.m. the morning after Christmas, four family members were shot by a relative with a rifle. Two were wounded and survived, but two—a neighbor and an off-duty Mansfield police officer—were killed. The suspect then fired multiple rifle rounds at responding police, who immediately called for SWAT.
Compounding the tragedy is the fact that the slain officer was a respected 15-year MPD veteran and a member of the SWAT team that responded and eventually apprehended the suspect. Tragically, the reported shooter was an off-duty corrections officer and the brother of the slain officer.
According to Mansfield Police Chief Phillip Messer, Officer Brian Evans died heroically, in the line of duty, trying to help diffuse a deadly situation involving his brother. Officer Evans' unselfish actions undoubtedly prevented an even greater loss of life.
The tragic Christmas night shooting in rural Ohio is still under investigation and perhaps, over time, lingering questions will be answered. Still, there are some valuable lessons we can learn from this tragedy.
First and foremost, officer survival is a very personal and full-time job, and I mean 24/7, 365 days a year. Ours is a profession unlike most and, even when we're "off-duty" if something happens, we automatically respond the way we're trained, as police officers.
Consider another very recent off-duty incident that happened in Cleveland. An off-duty SWAT officer entering a convenience store, happened upon an armed robbery in-progress. Official reports say that the officer, who wasn't spotted, backed out of the store, took a cover position, called 911 on his cell phone, and waited for the suspect to emerge. Which he did, gun in hand. When ordered to "drop the gun," the suspect allegedly pointed his gun at the officer, who shot and wounded the suspect.
This incident reveals once again that we must be alert and ready to act at all times, not just when we are officially on duty.
As we begin the year 2008, this is a good time to take a serious review of our own personal officer survival mentality and tactics. Now is the time to strengthen our weaknesses, while enhancing our strengths. This combined approach has served us well in the past, and will continue to do so, both now and in the future.