A “Statistical Insignificance….” That is the likely response you would get from a statistician regarding the recent downward trend in line-of-duty deaths. After all, there are nearly a million cops in this country and we ‘only’ lose about 150 a year. The statistician would also point out that the last three months provide “insufficient data” and no conclusion should be drawn.
Well, I’m not a statistician and I have a very different take on this. From September through November, we had 23 line of duty deaths. While that is absolutely tragic, it is less than half the loss of 52 officers that occurred the first three months of 2011. Regardless of what any statistician might say, this is a positive sign and should provide hope from which we should draw strength and encouragement.
A Self-Fulfilling Prophesy
While the attitude toward line-of-duty deaths has no doubt improved in recent years, and much of that is due to campaigns such as Below 100, we still see a lazy attitude when it comes to how we die in the law enforcement profession. Much of it, I’m afraid, is an acceptance that we will experience line-of-duty deaths no matter what we do.
Several years ago I witnessed this personally when a chief questioned why we would ever consider training in EVOC when everyone knows that “crashes are part of the job.” His attitude may not have been typical of the majority but this type of sentiment is out there and most of you know someone that possesses it. This is a dangerous and potentially deadly attitude and I would urge all of us to examine our own beliefs. We live in one of the most violent countries in the world and there’s no doubt officers die in spite of having done everything right. However, we must acknowledge that far too many times there was something that could have been done to prevent tragedy.
It Can Happen
It has been three years since we have seen three months of line of duty deaths as low as the last three months in 2011 and while I’m not ready to stand up and proclaim success, we should not shy away from recognizing that it is actually possible to do this through the course of a year. If the current pace continues, we would have approximately 92 line-of duty-deaths over a one year period. That is a number we haven’t seen since World War II and it is absolutely possible to do this. Yes, the experts may call it statistically insignificant but for those that wear the badge and train others that do, it is not insignificant and cannot be insignificant. We saw this pace briefly in 2008 but before then, it wasn’t until three months in 1964 that we saw line of duty deaths this low. Indeed, September, October and November in 2011 represents hope and it represents change.
Hope & Change
It sounds like a politician but it is reality. The last three months should give us hope. Hope that we can reduce line of duty deaths and we can reduce them significantly. We do not have to die because we didn’t use a seatbelt or we didn’t wear a vest or that we got lazy and complacent on a call. It does not have to happen and we must know that and we must believe that because knowing and believing will produce change and we all can use that. This will build momentum and further a growing culture of safety. None of us are perfect. We go to work and we’re susceptible to errors because most days are pretty much normal. It’s too easy to become complacent but complacency is deadly. We cannot let up and we cannot accept mistakes.
Below 100 Campaign
The Below 100 Campaign officially began in April 2010 at a dinner table outside Chicago, Illinois where some of the most respected trainers I know lined out what you now see today. But it could have happened before that. Similar ideas and proposals were given to other organizations and the pursuit of reducing our line-of-duty deaths was apparently not a priority. Could it be that deep down some may not believe it can happen? Is it that some think that dying in the line-of-duty is just part of the job and that the current level of loss is just a cost of doing business? No one puts the badge on and wants to die. There are no Mel Gibson’s (Lethal Weapon) in this profession. There are fathers and mothers and sons and daughters who stand between good and evil on a nightly basis and they deserve a culture of safety. They deserve a profession with less tragedy and we all have a responsibility to make that happen.
The last three months should show us that it is possible to drive down annual line-of-duty deaths to less than 100. There is only one way for a possibility to become a reality – through determination and hard work. Thankfully, Law Officer has shown they believe this can be done and they continue to work towards this goal. I know this can be done but it will take all of us working together to get our line-of-duty deaths Below 100. This is not a time to sit on the sidelines and watch others. Engage in this effort now. The life you save may be your own!