Last year was one of the bloodiest years in the history of American law enforcement.The National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Foundation says that 186 officers were killed in the line of duty in 2007. Unfortunately, judging by the butcher bill from the first six weeks of this year, 2008 looks just as bad.
I'm writing this in early February, so that's the stats that I'm working with. And here's what they reveal. As of Feb. 7, the families of 20 American officers were mourning the loss of their loved ones in the line of duty.
It breaks down like this: seven were killed in gun attacks, seven officers died in vehicle accidents, three were assaulted with vehicles, and one was accidentally struck by a motorist. The officers who were killed run the gamut from smalltown cops to federal agents and even a member of one of the nation's most elite law enforcement units: LAPD SWAT. They include grizzled veterans and rookies just off probation. One of these officers—Nicola Cotton, 24, of the New Orleans Police Department—was pregnant.
Not every death in the line of duty can be prevented. Law enforcement is by definition a dangerous job, and no amount of training or officer diligence will change that. When you consider that Randal Simmons was a 20-year veteran of LAPD SWAT and those guys train for a living, you can easily reach the conclusion that sometimes things just go badly.
There are many officer deaths that could not be prevented by any action by that officer. Sadly, there are just as many, perhaps more, that could have been prevented if the officer had taken a safety precaution or been given better training.
For example, in researching this month's cover story on the state of law enforcement training, I discovered that many of the officers killed in vehicle accidents last year were not wearing seat belts. Now I understand why an officer who might take gunfire in his or her car at any moment might not want to wear a seat belt. In such a situation, you want to be able to exit your car quickly, access your weapon, and return fire. You don't want to fumble with a seat belt.
The solution is that you need to train to make sure you can get out of that seat belt under stress. POLICE Magazine columnist and veteran police trainer Dave Smith says this is a skill you should have been taught in the academy. "We used to be out at the range, seat-belted in, and we had to practice unsnapping the seat belt, drawing our weapons, and engaging targets as we exited our vehicles."
Vehicle accidents represent a major threat to law enforcement officers, but an even greater threat is the motivated suspect who has trained to kill you. This so-called "super predator" is your worst nightmare. He has declared war on society's protectors, and he is training to murder you. He may even spend more time training than you do.
FBI reports say that career criminals train with their guns 24 times a year. When's the last time you went to the range?
Now let's talk about unarmed physical combat. Many of you haven't hit the mats to learn new defensive tactics techniques since the academy. In contrast, the average member of a prison gang is working out every day and being taught how to fight by veteran gang members who take this stuff very seriously.
You may doubt the quality of the training gang members receive in prison, but don't. More and more gang members are enrolling in serious martial art programs and serving in the military. In other words, the instructors know what they are doing. As for the students, don't doubt their motivation. After all, when's the last time that one of your DT instructors threatened to shank you if you didn't learn a technique?
It's not my place to tell you how to do your job. It's not my place to tell you what kind of training you need. But it is my place to tell you the following: American police officers are dying on duty at an alarming rate. You need to do everything that you can legally do to avoid becoming a statistic.