The 'Silent Blue Line' is the ultimate tragedy

It has never been a problem for others to discuss our mistakes but our profession doesn't exactly scrutinize itself

On July 24, 2012, Colorado Springs Motorcycle Officer Matt Tyner was killed while in a pursuit of another motorcycle. Today we know much more about the incident. Officer Tyner was on patrol about 1430 hours when he spotted a black sport-style motorcycle. Witnesses stated that the motorcycle was racing and weaving in and out of traffic and that Matt turned on his lights and began to pursue.

Through video surveillance, police determined that the suspect was travelling more than 120 miles per hour and Officer Tyner was going more than 100 mph. At an intersection, a 72-year-old driver tried to make a left turn in front of the officer. Matt’s motorcycle struck the truck and he died.

Media reports from the area state that all pursuits are limited to speeds not to exceed 25 miles per hour over the speed limit. The speed limit at the time of this tragedy was 45 miles per hour.

Knowing More Troubles Some
Should we discuss these details and if we do what if it shows that Officer Tyner made some mistakes that may have cost him his life? But let me stress this isn't just about Officer Tyler. When details emerge of any LODD, should we get those details into the open and share we all, so we can all learn from mistakes if any have been made? Isn't that the best way to honor our fallen brothers?

Before I proceed, we need to understand that every police officer has made a mistake. As long as we recruit from the human race, we will be an imperfect profession and mistakes will happen. Most of the time those mistakes do not kill or hurt us but unfortunately sometimes they do. Making a mistake and dying in the line of duty has nothing to do with the heroic actions of our fallen officers. Despite the circumstances, we need to understand that a sacrifice was made and that should never be forgotten.

When Mistakes Happen
Traditionally, it is very difficult for law enforcement to openly discuss the mistakes they make. It has never been a problem for others to discuss our mistakes but our profession doesn't exactly scrutinize itself.

I suppose part of it is because we are so used to others doing that for us or by admitting fault we are concerned about liability or a host of other things but after 19 years in this business, I can say with confidence that admitting fault is not part of the law enforcement culture.

We Can Save Lives
Is it possible that by keeping silent on a host of issues that we make mistakes in actually promotes those mistakes to continue? I recently taught a seminar in Post Falls, Idaho and a veteran officer walked up to me after the class. He told me that he has spent more than 20 years in law enforcement in two different states, attending two basic academies and going to hundreds of hours of training every year and that I was the first person to ever tell him to wear his seatbelt.

He had no idea of the tragedy our profession had been encountering due to a lack of seatbelt usage and it was obvious his attitude had changed on the issue. I was stunned when he said it but then I realized that no one had ever told me.

My good friend — renowned risk manager Gordon Graham — has been sponsoring the most unique public safety website I have ever seen.

It is called Fire Fighter Close Calls and the site takes close calls or mistakes that firefighters make and publishes them for other firefighters (and everyone else!) to see. The idea started from a newsletter in 1998 and according to the website it was designed to “bring forward the issues involving injury and death to firefighters... often issues that are ignored, quickly forgotten or just not talked about.”

The site states that the intent is not to embarrass anyone, but to provide information “in order to prevent the bad stuff from occurring again.”

While I liked the idea of a website that self reported mistakes so others can learn from it, I never dreamed anyone would pay attention to it. After all, firefighters are like cops with the exception that they don’t get into trouble when they sleep on duty but are they like us when it comes to an open discussion on mistakes made?

I recently ran across some firefighters in my town and I walked up to them and asked what they did to train. “We treat every day like a training day” said one firefighter and I immediately recognized that terminology from Fire Fighter Close Calls and just a few seconds later they told me about this great website that I just mentioned to you.

In addition, the fire service has another resource, the National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System.

The National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System is a voluntary, confidential, non-punitive and secure reporting system with the goal of improving firefighter safety.

Submitted reports will be reviewed by fire service professionals. Identifying descriptions are removed to protect the submitter's identity. The report is then posted on this website for other fire fighters to use as a learning tool.

Indeed, efforts such as those offered by two websites have been proven successful in recent years. In 2010, the fire service had the lowest number of fatalities in history and that lowered in 2011 and it appears that 2012 will be even lower. Is it possible that by analyzing close calls and mistakes that it actually prevents them from happening in the future?

How Do We Start?
So if we know about the tragedy and we know some mistakes were made, how do we start that discussion? In regards to Matt, I would suggest that almost every law enforcement officer has driven 100 mph when better judgment would have told them that the speeds were not worth the destination they were going to and unless you possess something that no one on this planet has, you have made some mistakes. Some of those mistakes may have violated policy.

Some may have gotten you hurt and some may have just been your lucky day that nothing bad happened. I certainly wonder why I am alive today and my fellow brothers and sisters aren’t when I have made some of the same mistakes that unfortunately killed them. Discussing our mistakes and how we can improve must become part of our culture. It can no longer be acceptable to keep silent when discussing it can prevent future tragedy.

Richmond (Calif.) Police Officer Brad Moody died on October 7, 2008, after he struck a utility pole. He was not wearing his seatbelt. His wife, Susan, said that Brad being gone “is not good enough” for her.

It is time that our profession has the same attitude. It is no longer good enough to just say that we lost another hero. It is time to have real discussions on how we can prevent them in the future.

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