We used to run feature stories in this magazine under the heading "Duty Dangers." And we may do so again. But if you really want to gain some insight into all the hazards you face on the job—both the felonious and the non-felonious variety—then all you have to do is read the newsletters that we send via e-mail to you several times per week. (If you're not signed up for the free PoliceMag.com newsletters and would like to be, just go to policemag.com/ontargetnewsletter and subscribe.)
In the first 25 days of last month (I'm writing this on April 25), we posted the stories of eight officers who died in the line of duty. Seven were killed in vehicle crashes and one died from injuries received when he responded to a suspicious fire.
What's remarkable is that none of these six officers was killed by gunfire. That's not to say that the bad guys weren't out there trying to gun down officers. They actually made a concerted effort. PoliceMag.com's April news postings document that several officers were either shot at or shot last month. The fact that none of the officers who were hit in the first 25 days of last month died is a testament to their wisdom in choosing to wear body armor on duty, the skill of the doctors and EMS personnel who treated their wounds, and the poor marksmanship of their attackers.
One of the more bizarre gun attacks on officers from last month occurred in a Los Angeles police station. Police say that at about 8 p.m. on April 7, Daniel C. Yealu walked into the lobby of the LAPD's West Traffic Division, said he had a complaint, and opened fire. A male officer, who has not been identified, was hit multiple times. He and a female officer then engaged Yealu, mortally wounding the alleged gunman. Yealu died nearly a month later. The wounded officer was released from the hospital two days later.
How that officer avoided more serious injury is truly a miracle. LAPD Sgt. Barry Montgomery told KTLA TV that the wounded officer was not wearing a vest at the time of the shooting. His life may have been saved when one of the gunman's bullets struck a backup gun in his pants pocket. Without that obstacle, the shot would have torn through his upper thigh and possibly his femoral artery.
The LAPD is currently reviewing its station security policies and will likely soon require front desk staff to wear body armor on duty. Which means the agency is drawing the conclusion that its officers face great hazard even in their offices.
You might think such attacks only happen in large cities like L.A. and Detroit. But as you'll learn in this month's "Shots Fired" story, even small town officers can't lower their defenses on duty. On the night of Jan. 3, 2010, Officer Justin Conley of the Mt. Orab (Ohio) Police Department walked out of his station to grab his brown bag dinner from his car. In the parking lot waited a disgruntled citizen who shot Conley in the back. Mt. Orab is a town of fewer than 4,000 souls.
Long ago Col. Jeff Cooper developed the Combat Color Code in his book "Principles of Personal Defense." As most of you know, the code starts at white (relaxed) and escalates to yellow (alert), then to orange (expecting attack), and finally to red (under attack). You've heard it time and again that you can't be in condition white on duty and must stay alert at all times. The Los Angeles and Mt. Orab station attacks are examples of why this is true when it comes to felonious assault.
But notice that seven of your brothers and sisters died in April traffic accidents and none died from felonious assault. You need to be in condition yellow to counter attacks but also to prevent vehicular accidents. Condition yellow behind the wheel means that you are prepared for an accident and wearing your seat belt. It means being alert to whatever stupid things other drivers might do. And it means being aware of the road conditions and how they might affect the performance of your vehicle.
There are many ways that the dangers of your profession can kill you. But this month as you commemorate National Police Week, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to find ways of lessening your chances of having your name added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. You can start with wearing your body armor and buckling up in your personal and police vehicles.