Capt. Travis Yates graciously hosted me as a guest on his radio show (Centurion Radio: TenXFour Ministries) a couple of months back. I took the call while sitting in a training office at the Wichita Falls, (Texas) Police Department. As I sat waiting for the introductions to play through and the one-hour show to begin, I looked around the office room. The room was fairly typical: a bevy of books, videos, manuals, even some old VHS tapes. “Red guns” and other training equipment were also strewn around the three-desk room. As I continued waiting, my eyes were drawn to a piece of paper from the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP, www.odmp.org). The paper contained a picture, a name, a bio and a narrative description—all of which described how a particular police officer lost his life the previous day.
At that moment, I realized Yates was introducing one of his two guests to the listening podcast audience—me—so I had to refocus.
The Man Behind the Show
Yates is an interesting dichotomy to the people who don’t understand the relationship between Christian principles (Travis is an evangelical preacher) and law enforcement public service (he's also a formidable 6’3” safety officer specialist who could incapacitate a normal human with a mere strategic touch with his left thumb. I shudder at the thought of what he could do if he used his right one). His radio show is a well-balanced and interesting mix of those principles as he talks about saving both physical body and eternal soul.
The second time I met him was at the ILEETA conference in April of 2011. There we took some 20 minutes and chatted about faith, adversity and staying the course in life under the most trying of circumstances. He has a gentle way about him, a soothing delivery and a vocal style punctuated with a disarming Oklahoma drawl.
That being said, one of his passions was quickly revealed as he asked me a question on his show that was particularly apropos as I was still holding the ODMP notice in my hand.
“Jim, do you really think we can keep the yearly line-of-duty deaths in this country below 100?”
What struck me instantly about the question, or rather the way he delivered it, was that there was a beseeching aspect to it. Yates, light years smarter than me, well-versed in the realities of law enforcement and one of the primary movers behind Law Officer's Below 100 Initiative, was practically begging to hear a response in the affirmative. Even if it only came from me. He wanted to believe, and know, that cutting officer deaths down to below 100 is truly possible—and it is.
How do you lower what is approximately 160 officers dying in the line of duty every year in this country? Well, it starts with a decision and effort on many fronts. I present three for discussion here.
1. Exposure of the reality on a mass media level. I begin every single Ultimate Survival Instincts Seminar presentaion by immediately asking the junior officer in the room this simple question: “How many U.S. law enforcement officers have been killed, or have died, in the line of duty in the past 12 months?” Rarely, very rarely, are they even close when they venture a guess. And the responses are almost always a guess, though the information is readily available to all in our profession. What's the lowest number ever answered? “I don't know, five or six?” What!?
Today, there's absolutely no excuse for anyone in our profession to be ignorant of the reality when it comes to officer deaths. Every sinlge law enforcement officer in the country needs to be members of ODMP. Sign up and once you do, forever more, you will get immediate notifications of officer deaths. This includes details, the bio, the survivors and the current statistics. Spend time on the site. Peruse the current stats. Read the realities of this job.
In addition, everyone needs to familiarize themselves with the Below 100 Initiative (www.below100.com). I have limited space here to describe what this is and how many lives it will save, but some of the top instructors in the U.S. and Canada put this four-hour program on for free! Its sole purpose: Expose the truth to those in the profession about how we die and how we can knock that number down to Below 100 every year.
2. Cultural changes. My teaching partner Sergeant Keith Wenzel of the Dallas PD says it best: “Why do cops drive so fast and without seat belts on? Why do they run up to driver’s rather than conducting a proper felony stop? Why do they refuse to use the contact and cover tactic? The answer: because they can. Who’s going to stop them?”
Culturally, it begins with administrators and supervisors taking the first step by addressing the issue and holding all accountable. As one sheriff said, after losing two officers to car crashes within months of each other, “I’d rather write my officers tickets and discipline them than to plan a funeral.” He cited risk-management specialist Gordon Graham: “If it’s predictable, it’s preventable.”
3. Personal responsibility. Education is an eye opener. Us old guys, who started over 30 years ago, will readily admit seat belts were totally ignored! Hell, in my agency, we had a car where an officer cut the driver’s seat belt out of the squad! Why? “Cuz’ real cops don’t wear no stickin’ seat belts!”
The excuses were as many as they were lame. And we all used the same ones. “What if I have to get out fast? What if I’m upside down in a river drowning and I can’t get it off? What if…” They were all excuses, which, by the way, were unnecessary as no one held us accountable for utilizing them anyway.
When we first made officers wear body armor, the whining could be heard miles away. “I can’t move in this thing!” “It restricts my breathing.” “It doesn’t fit my body-type!” Felony stops 30 years ago? Please! I don’t even remember practicing them in the academy, let alone seeing them applied on the street. “Run up quick, kid, or you there won’t be any room for you to grab this guy and pull him out the window!”
But now we see the consequences of poor practices and the inability to control hyper-stress under highly charged and emotional situations everywhere via training courses and the internet. But it takes the individual to make the necessary change. Each officer has to truly take control and responsibility for their own actions. This begins by education, imagery (Brian Willis is the profession’s best at this type of instruction) and a decision to do what it takes to keep our numbers down.
Remember: When you look at the stats and examine the narratives on odmp.org, those aren’t uniforms dying and being murdered—they're human beings. They're our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and friends. Let each of us begin changing our collective cultures and achieve the goal that Travis Yates, Dale Stockton, Jeff Chudwin and Brian Willis devote so much time to: keeping that terrible number well Below 100.