This year is off to a deadly start for U.S. Law Enforcement. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Between January 24 and January 25 alone, 11 officers were shot in five incidents spanning the country from Washington to Florida.
While it’s natural to speculate as to the source of this unprecedented violence against our nation’s law enforcement, our primary focus must be on addressing tangible factors within our control to afford ourselves every advantage in the deadly encounter we may face at any moment.
When considering why violence against police is more widespread now than perhaps any other time in our nation’s recent history, a couple factors immediately come to mind. For economic or political reasons, some members of our society lash out at the government. While this has always been the case, it has become a more significant issue in recent years, given our country’s economic downturn and turbulent political climate. As police officers, we are very prominent representatives of the establishment that some despise, which makes us targets every minute of every day we wear the uniform.
The economy hurts us in another way as well. Budget cuts to law enforcement agencies lead to inadequate staffing, inferior equipment, and infrequent training, all of which jeopardizes officer safety. But rather than dwell on factors beyond our control, let’s consider what we can do to keep our partners and ourselves safe.
To a police officer, “risk management” is more than a catchphrase; it is literally a matter of life and death. Since police work is inherently dangerous, we cannot reasonably expect to eliminate the risk of being injured or killed. But, we must mitigate that risk through our attitude, tactics, and training.
Attitude—Avoiding complacency is critical to officer survival. Even when things seem “business as usual,” we must remain vigilant. When someone approaches us, our first thought should be that this person is going to attack. It’s much easier to start from this premise and work your way down than vice-versa. To some, this attitude might be a sign of paranoia, but we know there are bad people out there who would do us harm simply because of the uniform we wear.
Tactics—No matter how mundane the call might seem, don’t take short cuts like parking in front of a residence, handling a call by yourself when you know it would be safer to wait for backup, standing in front of the driver door on a traffic stop, or talking to a subject with your hands in your pockets because it’s cold out. Such tactics are indicative of an officer who relies on luck. Unfortunately, when their luck runs out, they’ll find themselves on the wrong end of the “action versus reaction” phenomenon. Don’t make your job harder than it needs to be. Use sound tactics every time.
Training—Contrary to popular opinion, training does not have to be a department-sponsored event. From accessing equipment on your duty belt while walking down the hall to “slicing the pie” as you negotiate a corner inside the police department (but let your buddies know what you are doing!), training opportunities are all around you. Don’t take these simple exercises for granted. They’re free, easy to do, and they help to program your mind and body to respond appropriately.
Tilting The Odds
Unfortunately, in the law enforcement arena, you could do everything right and still be injured or killed. Like me, you’ve probably made innocent mistakes that could have carried tragic consequences. If you wear a gun and a badge, you need to be willing to risk your life for those you are sworn to protect. But you need to be a good “risk manager” to avoid needlessly exposing yourself to danger. While you can’t single-handedly curb the epidemic violence against police, you can help tilt the odds in your favor by maintaining a winning attitude, employing sound tactics, and taking advantage of the training opportunities that are all around you.
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by Len Waldron / May 1, 2011