NLEOMF panel discusses mid-year LODDs for 2020, officer safety
Panelists reviewed the latest officer fatality data and best practices for improving safety
By Suzie Ziegler
WASHINGTON — In conjunction with the release of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund’s annual Mid-Year Law Enforcement Officers Fatalities Report (available in full below), the organization hosted a virtual panel discussion on 2020’s LODD data.
The goal of the panel discussion, held via Zoom, was two-fold. NLEOMF officials discussed key data points in NLEOMF’s mid-year report; panelists shared advice and tips about how they’re keeping officers safe every day.
- Chief Will Balling, Sidney (OH) Police Department
- Mike Costigan, Acting Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance
- Sheriff Ira Edwards, Clarke County (GA) Sheriff's Department
- Sheriff Brian Gardner, Linn County (IA) Sheriff's Department
- John Matthews, Senior Director of Officer Safety and Wellness at the National Law Enforcement Museum
- Dr. John Sheinberg, MD, FACC, Lieutenant, Cedar Park (TX) Police Department
- Dr. Heather Silvio, Deputy Director, Police Training Institute
Here are a few memorable quotes from the panelists:
“Officers have a stress pattern that is 98% boredom and 2% sheer terror.” – Dr. Jon Sheinberg
“Everything for a successful firefight starts before you even put your boots on. Are you thinking about the call or are you thinking about a divorce or finances?” – Chief Will Balling
"The biggest thing I recommend to reduce stress is focusing on what you can control. A big part of the stress that we put ourselves under is focusing on things outside of our control. To some degree, it comes with the job description, as you are trying to anticipate what may happen when you go on a call, but does it stop there?" – Dr. Heather Silvio
"It is tough to get officers to see the big picture regarding wellness. But we have to change that mindset. The game-changer for me was when I saw two of my deputies have heart attacks." – Sheriff Ira Edwards
4 key takeaways
According to NLEOMF’s mid-year report, LODDs are down 14% so far in 2020 and firearms were the leading cause of fatalities. However, all of that could change if 53 pending COVID-19 deaths are approved as LODDs. The other major causes are traffic deaths and chronic sicknesses including heart attacks, strokes and 9/11-related deaths.
Here are four key takeaways from the panel discussion:
1. To tamp down on traffic-related deaths, agencies should implement best practices to keep officers safe.
Chief Will Balling has his officers conduct traffic stops from the passenger’s side window. Aside from keeping farther away from oncoming traffic, his officers can also see more of the inside of the vehicle and identify possible safety threats. Sheriff Ira Edwards wants his deputies to be extra visible. He has them work in groups of at least two and wear reflective vests at night.
2. All cops have is their body and their mind – it’s time we put them first.
Cops’ life expectancy is 57 – compared to 79 in the general American population – and the average age of heart attacks is 46, reported Dr. Jon Sheinberg during the discussion. This is the result of stressors unique to the profession. Agencies that focus on building mental and physical health programs will see a return on investment.
“How much does it cost a department to not being healthy? It outweighs the cost of wellness [programs],” Chief Will Balling said. Balling touted the effectiveness of wellness incentive programs – his LEOs can earn up to $1,700 if they pass a wellness test. All panelists emphasized the need to focus equally on physical fitness and mental health. Sheriff Brian Gardner now mandates confidential health checks for employees – leaders get confirmation that their employee attended, but the content of the visit is sealed.
3. It’s essential to prepare both physically and mentally for patrol before starting a shift.
Firearms fatalities were down 4% in the first half of 2020, but officers are still dying on suspicious persons calls more than any other type of call, Sheriff Brian Gardner said. His agency is now in the process of buying police training simulators for situational awareness training.
Chief Balling also discussed the value of simulator training and described how his officers carry a “GO bag” containing tourniquets and other essentials for emergencies.
4. Law enforcement agencies can avoid COVID-19 crises through early action.
Panelists each discussed how their agencies have been adapting to operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chief Will Balling emphasized reducing non-essential contact on patrol by taking more calls over the phone when possible. Both Sheriff Ira Edwards and Sheriff Brian Gardner have avoided COVID-19 cases among their inmate populations by doing temperature checks, releasing non-violent offenders who were close to completing their sentences and requiring masks for visitors.
Ultimately, Dr. Jon Sheinberg says common sense will help us prevail. “Wear masks, maintain 6 ft distance, avoid people known to be exposed without having on proper protective equipment, use hand sanitizer and check employees’ temperature every day,” he said.
How is your agency improving officer safety? Email information about your best practices and programs to email@example.com.