Brent J. Meyer
PORAC Vice President
Safety was top of mind as we honored our Fallen at the California Peace Officers’ Memorial Ceremony in May. This was especially so for me because I had been invited to represent PORAC at the meeting of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Officer Safety and Wellness Group in April in Washington, D.C. There, law enforcement officers, executives and support services representatives — such as the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS) and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services — gathered to discuss officer safety and wellness.
The group reviewed the results of “Making It Safer: A Study of Law Enforcement Fatalities Between 2010 – 2016,” which was prepared by NLEOMF. I was startled by most of the findings.
First, some good news. The report, which can be viewed online at nleomf.org/officer-safety/cops, found that the number of police fatalities dropped 10% in 2017, to 129, from 143 in 2016.
Other news, unfortunately, wasn’t as optimistic. Here’s what I learned:
- 22% of officers killed in line-of-duty deaths in 2016 were not wearing body armor.
- 52% of officers who died in line-of-duty auto crashes in 2016 were not wearing a seat belt.
- Suspicious person calls were the second-leading cause of line-of-duty deaths in 2016. Domestic dispute calls were the first.
- 5% of the officers listed on the National Law Enforcement Memorial died in “blue on blue” shootings, whereby they were mistakenly or accidentally killed by another law enforcement officer. (This occurs two or three times a year on average, mostly in training incidents.)
These are sobering and alarming statistics. Imagine the number of officers who’d still be alive today if preventive measures were in place and enforced. The working group discussed potential solutions, which recommended:
- Agencies should require all officers in uniform, even those working the front counter of the police station or transporting prisoners, to wear vests.
- Agencies should enact and enforce seat belt policies.
- Agencies should conduct scenario-based training wherein officers are seated in a vehicle or perceived low-threat location (coffee shop or restaurant) and must respond to an unsuspecting ambush/assault.
- In cases of suspicious person calls, officers should, when possible, request and wait for backup to arrive before making contact with a suspect.
- Agencies should institute recognition signals or code words so that uniformed officers know who plainclothes or off-duty officers are.
We also discussed the alarming rate of law enforcement officer suicides each year. The number — as compiled by Blue H.E.L.P. and Badge of Life, organizations that offer support to officers and their families and collect suicide data — is estimated to be 144 last year, compared with 119 officers killed in the line of duty. Separately, the Badge of Life, which has been tallying police suicides since 2008, says that the rate for police suicides is higher than that for the general population: 16 per 100,000 people, compared with 13.5 per 100,000.
The COPS Officer Safety and Wellness Group discussed these potential recommendations:
- Chiefs and executives should foster an environment that removes the stigma associated with mental health issues and actively encourage officers to seek help if they feel they need it.
- Sergeants and first-line supervisors should look beyond their day-to-day responsibilities to identify officers who may be in crisis.
- Offer team-inclusive training on dealing with and working through issues together.
- Expand peer support response teams (both in large agencies and regionally for smaller agencies).
It’s sad enough when officers lose their lives in the line of duty, but for them to take their own lives is unconscionable. We must do more to make it acceptable for officers to seek help for mental health issues, to let them know that they are not alone and that it’s OK to ask for help. If you feel like you are in crisis or think that someone you know might be, don’t hesitate to get help or intervene. We owe it to ourselves and each other to not suffer from the effects of this profession. The California Peace Officers’ Memorial Week and National Police Week remind us that our lives matter and that while we carry on for our Fallen, we still must watch out for ourselves.
Thank you for your membership. Have fun and stay safe!