The National Officer Safety and Wellness (OSW) Group focuses its efforts on 16 priorities grouped into four major themes. These themes and priorities are:
The Attorney General, the COPS Office, and Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) established the first three as top priorities.
1. Injuries and death due to gunfire. Sixty-nine officers were killed in the line of duty by gunfire in 2011, a 17% increase from 2010. The increasing incidents involving unprovoked, fatal shootings of officers is especially alarming and the OSW Group will identify training strategies, policies, and research that enhance officer safety when approaching suspects or responding to a violent call.
2. Premeditated and unprovoked ambush situations. Ambushes have attributed to nearly 40% of the officers feloniously killed in 2011, an increase from 31.25% in 2009. OSW Group will develop resources that will help officers anticipate, prepare for and counter ambushes while patrolling, serving warrants, investigating domestic disturbances, or even conducting routine traffic stops.
3. Rifle/long-gun threats/assault weapons. Officers are being injured and killed by rifles, long-guns, and assault weapons. The availability of adapted militarized assault weaponry provides tactical challenges to law enforcement officers. From 2000-2009, a staggering 490 officers were feloniously killed with a firearm; 94 with a rifle and 38 with a shotgun. The OSW Group works to develop strategies to better equip law enforcement in addressing the increasing threat of rifle, long-gun, and assault weapon attacks.
4. Task force operations (federal and local). Warrant and task force operations are especially dangerous activities, and a number of officers have been killed or injured performing these duties. There are techniques for mitigating the inherent risks, but the OSW Group calls for more to be done to protect officers in task force operations.
5. Offender history and behavioral profiles. In many cases, officers do not have timely information about the criminal history of a potential offender nor do they have assistance in understanding important behavioral triggers. The OSW Group believes analysts, dispatchers, and police trainers have an important role to play in improving officer safety outcomes through increased access to information on offender history and profiles.
6. Court security. Providing security is one of the most dangerous tasks for sheriffs' deputies. The OSW Group works to develop strategies to improve safety during prisoner transportation and in the court facilities. Initial areas of focus include emergency preparedness, bomb threat responses, hostage situation control, crowd control, high-risk trial procedures, and defensive tactics.
7. Leadership and safety practices. Law enforcement leaders and management are responsible for ensuring the health and wellbeing of officers. The OSW Group investigates ways to help law enforcement leaders and management focus on safety issues and hold all levels of their organizations accountable for safety, health, and wellness practices.
8. Equipment. Ensuring officers are equipped with state of the art equipment, body armor, and weapons is crucial to improving officer safety. The OSW Group recognizes the need to properly equip officers and aims to establish an industry standard for equipping and protecting officers.
9. Deployment strategies and communication technologies. Many factors are taken into consideration when developing deployment schedules, but some factors may compromise an officer's safety and place him/her in dangerous situations (i.e. insufficient backup, sleep deprivation). In addition, enhancing communication technologies (i.e. ensuring interoperability capability) can improve safety outcomes. The OSW Group explores deployment strategies and communication technologies that can improve officer safety.
10. Physical health (e.g., fatigue, alcohol, weight, and nutrition). Many officers work long hours and are exposed to a variety of stressors, but an officer's health greatly impacts his/her ability to effectively deliver policing services. An officer in poor health also jeopardizes his/her own safety and the safety of fellow officers and members of the community. The OSW Group emphasizes programmatic recommendations that encourage physical health and fitness while on duty (i.e. allowing officers access to a gym, nutritional and general wellness programs).
11. Psychological health. Law enforcement officers are regularly exposed to extreme and sometimes traumatic situations. Post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide are very real issues: in 2009, 143 law enforcement officers took their own lives. The OSW Group strives to improve mental health resources for officers and also identifies ways to help officers overcome the stigma of using mental health services.
12. Maintaining good health. A career in law enforcement impacts most areas of a person's life and therefore a comprehensive approach is required to ensure ideal officer safety and wellness. Personal habits, emotional intelligence, and the proportion of on/off-duty time can all affect safety outcomes. The OSW Group encourages holistic approaches to maintaining good health and wellness.
13. Former military in law enforcement. There has been an influx of returning military personnel in law enforcement jobs and many of these former-military police officers suffer from war-related trauma (including post-traumatic stress disorder). The OSW Group identifies unique and appropriate services to ensure that injury and stress from previous military service does not interfere with an officer's ability to provide effective policing services.
14. Education and training. Training is essential to preparing officers to respond to the rigorous demands of their jobs, and while training at the Academy prepares the officer for the basics, consistent and personalized education throughout an officer's career is critical. The OSW Group addresses lifelong officer education and training (with a particular emphasis on in-service training) as a means of improving officer safety.
15. Emergency vehicle operation and safety. Officers face hazards performing both routine and emergency activities with automobiles, motorcycles and bicycles. The OSW Group emphasizes ways to reduce preventable injuries resulting from vehicle operation.16. Foot pursuit safety. Chases, whether in a vehicle or on foot, are one of the more dangerous situations for a law enforcement officer. A large number of officers have been killed and harmed in vehicular and foot pursuits. The OSW Group explores how better policies, procedures, tactics, techniques and training can improve officer safety during these inherently hazardous situations.