This column is dedicated to all the men and women who will don their body armor, pin on their badge, strap on their duty gear, get in their squad car, and serve their community on Christmas Day 2019. It is also dedicated to every officer who has ever made the sacrifice of being apart from family on Christmas over the years.
This week, we've seen a significant number of news items that remind us that the holiday season offers the opportunity for citizens to come together with law enforcement in celebrating the season and giving to those less fortunate. We've also seen some pretty great social media posts by agencies celebrating the season.
Here's a quick recap of those items—in case you missed them—and then some thoughts on patrolling during the winter holiday season.
In the News...
Earlier this week, we reported on an 8-year-old boy in Kentucky whose kindness and sense of service to the community ensured that the annual toy drive conducted by the Ludlow Police Department is successful again this year.
Third-grader Braxton Gillespie solicited donations by posting copies of a hand-drawn bulletin that read, "I’m helping the Ludlow Police Department. I want to fill my mom’s van with toys to help kids to have a merry Christmas. #BraxtonMission #SpreadingCheer Thanks."
Chief Scott Smith said, "Every year, a couple days before (Christmas), we always get some surprise families added to the list, and we always scramble."
Braxton's donation ensures that won't happen this year.
A little later in the week, we reported on the Dade City (FL) Police Department, which gave a number of residents an early holiday gift when they paid off the balance owed for countless gifts on layaway in danger of being placed back on the shelves of a local Walmart.
Dade City Police Chief James Walters delivered payment of more than $4,300 due for more than two dozen purchases that would have expired on the day of their visit to the store.
The layaway purchases were paid for because of anonymous donations to the Dade City Police Department foundation.
Then we reported on community members in a small Connecticut town on the shores of Long Island Sound who have heeded the call of their police department after the agency posted on Facebook that their annual toy drive was in need of donations.
The agency had said on social media, "We are in desperate need of toy donations!! With just under a week to go for our collection."
After the agency's plea for help in filling a trailer truck with toys, that vehicle has not only been stuffed with gifts, but toys are also now piled high in an overflow room at the station.
Then, there was what is probably my favorite item of the week. The Stow (MA) Police Department posted a video to Facebook—created by a 15-year-old who wanted to do something nice for the local police department—of four squad cars illuminating their emergency lights in perfect synchronicity with a performance of "Carol of the Bells" by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
The video has garnered more than 2.6 million views and 25,000 shares.
We then reported on the Tallahassee Police Department hosting a series of events—dubbed the 12 Days of Christmas—aimed at bringing holiday cheer to the community. Then there was the San Diego Police Department video posted to its Facebook page showing one of the agency's employees in the communications division who had decorated her cubicle as a life-size gingerbread house. We also reported on officers with the Reading (MA) Police Department raising more than $2,000 for a local food bank.
The holidays offer myriad opportunities for officers to interact with the public in a positive and inspirational way.
However, the season also holds the same perils officers face during the rest of the year—and potentially some heightened dangers due to holiday revelry and winter weather.
Here's a quick reminder of some of the things to watch out for.
Policing the Holidays
T'was the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring—except for the abusive husband battering his wife and the burglar riffling through the residence in search of valuables to pawn.
Certain types of criminal activity have a tendency to increase in frequency during the two-week period on either side of Christmas morning. Holiday parties can result in an increased number of drivers getting behind the wheel while intoxicated. Family gatherings can turn into a bad reality show with arguments devolving into fisticuffs and possibly even more dangerous violence up to and including gunfire. People foolishly leave packages plainly visible in their vehicles, creating opportunities for car break-ins to spike during the season.
Other incidents—while not necessarily criminal—pose dangers to the citizens you're sworn to protect. House fires are started by unattended holiday trees, clogged chimney flues, and frozen turkeys that explode when dropped into the deep fryer in the garage. Slick driving conditions on roads clogged with throngs of travelers make their way over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house.
So, with all that happening, here are some thoughts on officer safety during the holiday season.
Make sure you are well nourished and well hydrated. Human beings dehydrate faster in cold weather conditions and proper nutrition helps the body retain its heat. Keep a good supply of high-energy snacks in the trunk of your patrol vehicle, and refill your insulated water bottle frequently.
Unless you work in Hawaii, it's probably cold in your jurisdiction—at least during the overnight hours. Layer your clothing. You might spend hours upon hours out in the weather at a crime scene or working the perimeter of a barricaded gunman call, and then respond to a domestic call where the residence is heated to temperatures typically found in a kiln. Having the ability to peel layers off and put them back on again is critical for your comfort.
Further, keep in mind that open-hand tactics—everything from taking a subject to the ground to using your body weapons to subdue a resistive suspect—can be a whole lot more difficult on ice or in a foot or more of snow.
NHL players have made fighting on ice look easy.
Finally, be cognizant of how your patrol vehicle might be affected by winter weather. Where I grew up, we had something called "black ice"—an ultra-thin layer of ice essentially invisible to the naked eye. Visibility in falling snow can be reduced to just meters in front of your squad car. Adjust your speed appropriately.
Patrolling during the holiday season can be more than merely miserable—it can be dangerous and even deadly. Stay safe out there my friends.