Before I begin today's vital topic on officer survival, I want to thank all the readers who have taken the time and effort to e-mail their comments on recent columns. I've read each and every comment, and have gained added insight into the volatile world of today's law enforcement. Your comments are both welcome and appreciated. Keep them coming.
Last year was the deadliest year for American law enforcement in decades, and by year's end 188 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty. So, when 2008 mid-year figures were released, it was a relief to learn that dramatically fewer law enforcement officers had been killed this year. Fewer maybe, but still far too many.
I decided to follow up on officer deaths for 2008, and checked the Officer Down Memorial Page (odmp.org) to learn the most recent figures. As of October 7, 2008, a total of 98 U.S. law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty. If this trend holds for the remainder of the year, 2008 will see fewer LE deaths than last year. Good news? Yes, but not totally.
Any death of a law enforcement officer is one too many. It is impractical to think that a full year can ever pass without a single police casualty, particularly in today's increasingly violent society, where bad guys seldom hesitate to take on police, often with deadly results. So, the more realistic goal is to reduce the number of police casualties to the lowest possible number.
How can we reduce our deadly numbers? By relentlessly hammering home the vital importance of officer survival in everything we do on the job. Everything: training, awareness, instincts, equipment, weaponry, tactics, emergency medical care, etc. Everything.
SWAT, born in the late 1960s, is considered relatively new to law enforcement. If SWAT is new, officer survival is even newer—born in the mid-1970s around the same time body armor and portable radios started coming into their own.
That SWAT and Officer Survival were born around the same time is anything but accidental. From its beginning, SWAT has always placed great emphasis on officer survival. A role that over the years, SWAT has spread throughout the rest of law enforcement, through tactics, training, attitude, weaponry, equipment, etc.
The deadliest years in U.S. LE history were the early 1970s, with a steady decrease ever since. While SWAT can't claim to be the reason for this decline, it certainly contributed to LE's overall emphasis on officer survival.
The dramatic spike in LE casualties in 2007 was viewed with great alarm by many police. The reduced numbers so far in 2008 is cause for cautious optimism. That said, I decided to take a look at the overall picture of LE line of duty deaths from 2000 to the present. The results were both alarming and sobering.
According to figures from the Officer Down Memorial Page, from 2000 through October 7, 2008, a staggering 1,475 U.S. law enforcement officers died in the line of duty. During the same period, 64 Canadian law enforcement officers also died in the line of duty.
Digging deeper into the number of deaths for select LE agencies reveals the following: New York City PD = 54, California Highway Patrol = 20, Chicago PD = 11, Houston PD = 10, Baltimore City PD = 10, Philadelphia PD = 10, Los Angeles PD = 8, Phoenix PD = 8, Detroit PD = 7, Dallas PD = 7, San Francisco PD = 7.
While overall numbers may be dropping, there are some notable deadly exceptions. So far this year, eight officers have died in both Texas and California. And in the past year, four Philadelphia PD officers have been killed in the line of duty. Earlier this year, an officer from my department, Cleveland PD, was killed, with the suspect's trial currently underway.
It is disturbingly clear that despite the many improvements in officer safety, law enforcement remains a deadly dangerous profession: deadly dangerous because police continue to be that "thin blue line" standing between society and the predators who prey upon the innocent. Police are society's warriors, the ones who run to the sound of the gunfire, while everyone else is running from it.
SWAT will lead the way by tactical example and encouraging all police to follow. And following SWAT is exactly what "the thin blue line" will do, because warriors follow other warriors, including into harm's way.