4 things firearms LODDs can teach cops about road safety

Technology, training, and awareness are at their peak and we must take advantage to improve our profession

Our profession was born out of extreme violence and that brutal truth has continued through the generations since American law enforcement began. It was just a few decades ago that we routinely lost more than 100 police officers every year due to firearm deaths. The decade that my father began in law enforcement (the 1970s) we averaged 234 line-of-duty deaths a year, with an average of 122 firearm deaths each year. 

That is in direct contrast to 2013 when we suffered just 32 line-of-duty deaths to firearms and 105 deaths overall — a historic low — despite an extreme amount of firearms being present in the hands of criminals, a lack of resources for mentally-ill individuals, and a rise in anti-government organizations and sentiment. 

So how has law enforcement made such remarkable gains? The improvements in the area of violent deaths have come from hard work. If we can make such dramatic improvements in the area of line-of-duty deaths from violent attacks, the same dramatic change can occur in roadway related deaths if we apply the same principles. 

1. Training
Despite an environment that has been increasingly more dangerous, there is no question that our training has made our warriors safer. We’ve evolved shooting once a year at a stationary paper target to multiple courses a year that place officers in real life scenario-based training where bad guys are returning fire. 

Meanwhile, most officers haven’t driven a vehicle in a training environment since the basic academy and when training is given, it’s all too often skills-based or speed-based. While that component may be necessary, we should look at our firearm instructors and learn something: 

While shooting at non-moving targets may be a requirement to “qualify,” that training is often expanded to include real life scenarios and decision making. The difference has been phenomenal on the firearms side, and it’s time my EVOC brothers and sisters follow them.

2. Technology
There’s a reason we saw the average firearm related deaths drop from 122 a year in the 1970s to 81 in the 1980s and much of that was the addition of ballistic vests. Those vests got better through the years in regards to protection, comfort and options. A few years ago, the Department of Justice mandated their wear for agencies obtaining their grant funding for vest purchases.

Meanwhile, the primary safety device in vehicles — the seatbelt — has remained relatively unchanged for decades. Much has been said about the lack of usage by law enforcement but the device itself has not conformed to the needs of law enforcement. Not only should law enforcement seatbelts be conformed and developed for quick release and comfort but just like ballistic vests, there should be a mandatory wear policy.

3. Resources
Millions of dollars are spent on successful research and training on how we can stop violence against law enforcement. I recently attended a well known training course supported by the Department of Justice that is designed to stop ambushes against law enforcement. It’s a valuable course and while there were 15 documented ambush deaths in 2014, continued training can reduce that.

Meanwhile, there were 50 line-of-duty deaths last year on the roadway and I’m still looking for the courses and resources to help reduce that. There are very few such courses widely available to the masses and it’s time we change that. 

I’ve been directly involved in training that has reduced agency collisions by more than 40 percent and reduced injuries, and we know from our reduction in violent deaths, that placing more resources on the issue will help. 

4. Awareness
One of the most underrated officer safety measures is the issue of awareness. If we are aware of the potential dangers around us, we are more likely to take the precautions necessary to be as safe as possible. The cowardly murder of two New York City police officers sitting in their vehicle last December sent shock throughout the country and every police agency. 

The public stood up in support of law enforcement and agencies throughout the country instituted training and sent out safety bulletins in regards to the potential dangers in ambush attacks. My own agency launched vehicle ambush training including counter ambush tactics training in vehicles. Two-officer units were deployed in some cities and officers were told to be vigilant as they went about their duties. It’s not a coincidence that we haven’t seen a line of duty death related to violence in 2015. Awareness and vigilance matters and it must continue.

When I ask agency classrooms across the country what the leading cause of death of officers is, “firearms” is the most common answer — but it hasn’t been for two decades. 

Many in our profession don’t know what our threats are so they can’t be aware of them. The primary job of our law enforcement leaders has to be the safety of those they lead. Without that, nothing else matters and if the leaders don’t know, we simply can’t expect the line officers to be aware.

Lessons in law enforcement have been written in blood over hundreds of years and we are in a unique time in our profession where technology, training, and awareness are at its peak and we must take advantage of that in all areas of our profession. This isn’t the time to celebrate this historic event but learn what we have done to create it and continue it.

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