Editor's note: Through the end of the year, we will be posting a series of articles that focus on common-sense officer safety. Use them for briefing and squad meetings, and send them to everyone you know who wears a badge.
We’ve all heard the words “Start me another unit, send me back-up,” or some radio code or signal that means the same thing. When we hear those words our brains sometimes kick into high gear and our gas pedal often is stomped to the floor. Since 2010, more than 15 officers have died while responding to these “assistance” calls. Unfortunately, my home state of Georgia has suffered two tragic line-of-duty losses while responding to help fellow officers during this month alone. In one of those crashes, another officer was critically injured.
We don’t know all of the contributing factors in these crashes, but we know two facts: Both officers were responding to assist another officer and neither officer made it to the scene. I’ve been a Below 100 trainer for two years. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Below 100, the program focuses on use of safety equipment and decision making on the part of officers. During training presentations, we share the tragic stories of officers who have died in the line of duty and we do it for one primary reason: we must honor our fallen by training the living. That’s what this article is all about.
As a law enforcement culture we must focus our individual attention and department’s attention on two main points when it comes to officer assistance calls:
1. Your actions, words and tone of voice when requesting assistance play a significant role in the safety of other officers. You have an inherent obligation to your fellow brothers and sisters (as well as the citizens) to let responding officers know your level of urgency. We often request assistance from other officers but many of these situations don’t require emergency response. To the degree that is possible, clearly convey the situation and provide an update if possible. Consider the case of California Highway Patrol Officer David “Ryan” Bunting. Officer Bunting was shot once in the hand and once in his vest during an ambush.
Bunting did several things right during the ambush but the thing that stands out to me was a single sentence in one of his radio transmissions: “Tell units to slow down… my… uh… one of the shots went into my vest, one into my hand… neither are life threatening.” These few words in time of crisis let responding officers know he was ok and reminded them to slow down and get to the scene safely. It is very possible that Bunting’s actions prevented a tragedy and he’s to be commended.
2. Very simply, we need to get there if we are going to be any help. Driving recklessly or too fast for conditions is ultimately dangerous for us and for the officer requesting assistance. If you crash enroute to help a fellow officer that has a life threatening injury and you wrap your car around a pole, not only do you fail to help anyone but you draw precious resources away from the requesting officer. I’m not talking about just law enforcement resources but fire and EMS personnel as well. A good friend of mine and fellow Below 100 trainer, Tommie Loftis, used this phrase while speaking to a class of Arizona’s finest: “Do you have the words in your heart?” Those words have stuck with me. If you were to crash while responding to an officer down, causing resources to be diverted to you, and your fellow officer tragically dies, do you have the words in your heart to explain to the other officer’s family your irresponsible behavior?
Don’t run to your death. Consider the consequences of your actions. You have a responsibility to more than just yourself. You have an absolute obligation to your fellow officers, citizens, friends and family to do the right thing. This is not a “veteran officer” problem or a “rookie officer” problem, it is a law enforcement problem.
As a fellow Georgia law enforcement officer, I write this article in memory of a 30 year law enforcement veteran, Corporal Thomas Keith Slay of the Columbus, GA Police Department and 10 month Police Officer Ivorie Klusmann of the DeKalb County, GA Police Department. Both officers had so much to live for yet died while responding to assist another officer. Let’s honor our fallen by training our living. We can’t help anyone if we don’t get there.
More information on Below 100 can be found at www.Below100.com.
Lt. Dennis Valone is a core Below 100 trainer and works for the Alpharetta (Ga.) Police Department. He is the president of the Georgia Tactical Officers’ Association and has worked in public safety for more than 18 years, having begun his career as a paramedic.