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Columns : Editorial

Focusing on Officer Safety

Many law enforcement injuries and fatalities can be prevented by taking simple precautions.

June 16, 2017  |  by - Also by this author

Photo: Kelly Bracken
Photo: Kelly Bracken

Much of this issue of POLICE focuses on officer safety. We made a conscious decision to do this because the June issue is our annual buyer's guide, so it tends to be the issue that officers keep the longest.

Officer safety is not just about the physical well-being of officers but also emotional health. That's why we asked Stephanie Samuels of Copline (Copline.org) to write an article about coping with stress. Stephanie is a psychotherapist, who works exclusively with law enforcement officers, and is an expert on PTSD. Her message is to find healthy ways to decompress, keep your friends — even non-police friends — and family close, and find someone you can talk to.

We also turned our attention to a once taboo topic, officer suicide. This is by far the number one killer of active and retired law enforcement officers. Managing Editor Melanie Basich first addressed this topic in a May 2003 special report, and now 14 years later, she is revisiting it, as more and more police suicides fill the news. The focus of this feature article is how to recognize suicidal ideation in fellow officers and yourself and what to do about it. We can't discuss this issue enough. Too many families are missing loved ones because of the terrible toll your profession takes on emotional health.

In addition to discussing psychological hazards that face officers, this issue addresses officers' physical safety.

Which is why one of the first things we did when planning this issue was contact Dale Stockton, founder of Below 100 (Below100.org). Dale is a retired police captain, the former editor of a now-defunct competitive magazine, and a really good guy. He has dedicated his life to training officers to take simple precautions that can save their lives. His article,"An Officer Safety Reality Check," details the basic tenets of the Below 100 program, including such lifesaving advice as "wear your vest," "wear your seat belt," and "watch your speed."

To Dale's list I'll add another one, "Carry your tourniquet, if you have one." Tourniquets are proven lifesavers in the hands of properly trained officers. In the past five or so years that tourniquets have been routinely carried in the field by law enforcement officers, those officers have used them to save fellow officers, civilians, suspects, and even themselves from bleeding out. If your agency is not issuing tourniquets or allowing trained officers to carry tourniquets they purchased for themselves, then it's time to start the discussion. You can use my article for background and then do a search online for "officer saves life with tourniquet." That search will yield dozens of articles about officers using these inexpensive and easy-to-use tools to save lives.

Now let me address what will likely be the most controversial story in this month's POLICE, "Managing High-Speed Pursuits." As you probably know, high-speed vehicle pursuits are extremely dangerous for all involved and even for those who aren't involved but who just happen to be on the streets at the time the participating vehicles race toward them. The death toll of officers, suspects, and bystanders from car chases is staggering.

Just as we went to press, a West Virginia police lieutenant was killed in a pursuit while driving into an intersection. Local officials are being tight-lipped on this incident, pending a state police investigation. But we do know his patrol car collided with another law enforcement vehicle and three law enforcement vehicles were involved. The other two involved officers were treated and released at a local hospital. The lieutenant was apparently ejected.

This is not the first time I have heard of officers being killed in collisions with fellow officers during high-speed pursuits. Yes, I know police pursuits are caused by the bad guys, and the responsibility for any tragedy that results belongs to them. But thoughtful people in law enforcement need to take a long, hard look at pursuit policies and tactics, coordination of the involved vehicles, and when it's time to break off the chase.

Please use your seat belt; wear your vest; keep your speed down; carry a tourniquet and know how to use it; be careful driving even in pursuits, and if your job or your life are becoming too much for you, talk to someone. We don't need more officers dying from preventable causes.


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