Last month, I mentioned the conversation with Jeff Chudwin wherein he made the statement, “Reckless arrival does not equal survival.” The essence of the problem is that egos are trumping good judgment and pedal-to-the-metal attitudes are causing officers to get ahead of themselves and their abilities. If we can get supervisors and trainers to address their subordinates and trainees on this topic, a lot of lives and careers can be saved.
In addition to the risk of a tragic accident, an officer who arrives at an incident in a hyper-adrenalized state is more likely to make a mistake. Tunnel vision, poor coordination, rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure and reduced judgment do not contribute positively to decision making. Question: Why would anyone want officers to go into a critical situation with the odds stacked against them?
I don’t believe that any of our readers actually want this to happen. Instead, I believe it’s allowed to happen because of a level of cultural acceptance that cops driving fast is somehow expected or perhaps considered an entitlement. That’s just wrong. There’s a time and place for emergency response, but it must be the exception and not the rule. We have as many cops dying in car accidents as being killed by gunfire, and that just doesn’t make sense.
Recently, I had a conversation with a good friend and someone I have a huge amount of respect for, Will Jimeno, one of the two New York-New Jersey Port Authority police officers whose true story was depicted in the movie World Trade Center. More than anyone I know, Jimeno understands the value of human life and the special responsibility that comes with wearing a badge.
Jimeno told me about a recent experience where he was riding with a fellow officer who was driving way beyond what the situation warranted. Jimeno confronted the officer, reminding him of the family that he was responsible for and the unnecessary risk he was taking. It worked.
“We’ve got to make this personal,” Jimeno said. “Officers have to understand that they aren’t indestructible and they need to make it home at night. I know one officer who ended up a quadriplegic because of a crash and it just doesn’t have to happen that way.”
I know a police supervisor who carries a significant level of guilt because a subordinate died in an accident that was the result of driving too fast for conditions. The supervisor later confided that he felt he could have prevented the loss—if he’d only been more assertive and held the officer accountable for his actions. Don’t find yourself attending the funeral of a comrade and wondering whether you should have said or done something. By that time, it’s too late to make it right.
Although the number of duty-related deaths has been declining somewhat in recent years, it’s still way too high. The last time the number was below 100 was 1949. Think of the improvements in training, weaponry, body armor, vehicle safety and emergency medicine that have occurred during the last fifty years. Considering those changes, we should be able to get the number of line-of-duty deaths back below 100 again, and I believe it can be done with a commitment to some very basic steps. Yes, I know the bad guys sometimes have AK-47s and that there has been an increase in targeted attacks. But if you look with cold objectivity at our losses, you’ll realize that many of them are preventable.
I’ve discussed this with our staff and contributors, and we’re going to redouble our efforts toward reducing the number of officer deaths. You’ll be seeing more on this endeavor in both the magazine and on the Web site, but we’ll definitely need your help to get it done. I’d really like to know your thoughts and hear your suggestions. I believe if we just stress five fundamental steps that are easy to remember, we’re on our way:
- Wear your belt.
- Wear your vest.
- Watch your speed.
- WIN—What’s Important Now?
- Remember: Complacency Kills!
Tell your officers and tell them again. Set the example. Get it across that you care enough to hold them accountable. Recognize officers who do it right, and constructively correct officers who need improvement. Create an environment where doing the right thing—for example, wearing your vest—is so common that those who don’t feel out of place. Make it personal: Remind officers that their family needs them and that dying in an accident or preventable incident is not acceptable. Let’s make a difference and bring the number of officer deaths down to historic lows. I know we can do it, so let’s get it done.
Dale Stockton is a 32-year-veteran of law enforcement, having worked in all areas of police operations and investigations and retiring as a police captain from Carlsbad, California. He is a graduate of the 201st FBI National Academy and holds a Master’s degree in Criminology from the University of California, Irvine. He has served as a Commissioner for California POST, the agency responsible for all California policing standards and training. Dale is the former editor-in-chief of Law Officer Magazine and is the executive director of Below 100.