"If we could just slow down, wear our seatbelts and clear intersections, we could get our line of duty deaths to Below 100 a year." That statement made in 2010 by Captain Travis Yates of the Tulsa Police Department helped initiate the BELOW 100 Challenge (www.below100.com).
The program has five tenets to try to reduce line of duty deaths:
- Wear Your Belt
- Wear Your Vest
- Watch Your Speed
- WIN--What's Important Now?
- Remember: Complacency Kills!
Most of these goals emerged from the leading causes of on-duty deaths: gunshot wounds and vehicle crashes. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund site, 1,540 law officers died in the line of duty in the last decade. Of that number, 564 died from gunshot wounds, 457 died in auto crashes, 77 in motorcycle crashes, and another 138 died after being struck by a vehicle (www.nleomf.org). Reducing deaths from gun violence and traffic accidents would substantially improve the number of officers who make it home at the end of each shift.
Causes of Law Enforcement Deaths in the Last 10 Years (2003-2012)
From the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund Site
- Gunshot Wound--564
- Auto Crash--457
- Job-Related Illness--177
- Struck by Vehicle--138
- Motorcycle Crash--77
- Aircraft Accident--25
- Stab Wound--13
- Terrorist Attack--9
- Bomb-Related Incident--5
- Struck by Train--5
- Struck by Falling Object--4
- Bicycle Accident--3
- Boating Accident--3
- Horse-Related Accident--1
To date in 2013, 63 law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty (www.odmp.org). Gunfire and traffic accidents lead the way again. Thankfully more and more departments are issuing and requiring personnel to wear soft body armour. However, not all vests are equally effective. If you are heading into a known active shooter situation, it could be life saving to have an external vest in the vehicle that was capable of stopping a rifle round, such as those fired by an AK47. See "Hard Body Armor for Patrol" for more details (www.officer.com).
Officers can wear vests and seatbelts, but what else can they do?
One situation that takes all the self-restraint that an individual officer can muster, is an officer needs assistance call. When you hear another officer radio for help, your adrenalin races and you do everything possible to get there NOW. It is tough to drive safely and avoid tunnel vision under such charged circumstances. But the only way responding units can aid their brother or sister is to get to the scene safely.
After loosing two Georgia officers this summer while responding to two separate assistance calls, Lt. Dennis Valone of the Alpharetta GA Police Department provided suggestions for law enforcement officers related to officer needs assistance calls (www.lawofficer.com).
If you need assistance: Be careful of the message you send. If you want back up but do not require an emergency response, make that clear. Once the situation is under control, advise the dispatcher so that other units know that they do not need to speed to the location.
If you are responding to the request for assistance: Use caution. "Very simply, we need to get there if we are going to be any help" (www.lawofficer.com). Officers who get in accidents on the way to a call for assistance, can't help the officer in need and will divert other emergency responders away from the original incident.
Likewise, you must use extreme self-control during a pursuit. It is too easy to lose site of everything but the suspect vehicle. "When you're pursuing someone, consciously take the time to think about where you are and where you're going, and continually evaluate the risks associated with the pursuit versus the reward of nabbing the perp." (www.policeone.com). Part of a law enforcement officer's job is to do everything in his or her power to be alive to do the job again tomorrow.
The BELOW 100 initiative provides training to give officers information and promote the value of safety throughout departments. It and similar programs preach about effective use of safety equipment and sound decision-making. Law enforcement officers can't avoid danger, but they can respond to dangerous situations with caution.
- Below 100 Initiative, "Our History & Mission," www.below100.com, (accessed August 24, 2013).
- Davis, Kevin, "Hard Body Armor for Patrol," www.officer.com, July 31, 2013.
- National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, "Causes of Law Enforcement Deaths," www.nleomf.org, April 2013.
- Officer Down Memorial Page, "Honoring Officers Killed in 2013," www.odmp.org, (accessed August 25, 2013).
- Stockton, Dale, "Below 100 - Introduction," www.lawofficer.com, October 20, 2010.
- Valone, Dennis, "Start Me Another Unit!" www.lawofficer.com, August 16, 2013.
- Wyllie, Doug, "Tip: Stay Alert to Your Surrounds During Pursuit," www.policeone.com, October 17, 2012.
"Below 100 is not about statistics. It's about each and every officer, trainer and supervisor taking individual and collective responsibility for the decisions and actions that contribute to safety."
--Dale Stockton, Editor of Law Officer Magazine