National Officer Safety and Wellness Group
National Officer Safety and Wellness Group: 16 Priorities
During the initial kick–off meeting held in July 2011, the OSW Group identified 16 focus areas that would guide future meetings as well as the overall mission of the group.
The 16 priorities are grouped into four themes:
Operational and Emergency Responses
The Attorney General, the COPS Office, and BJA established the first three as top priorities.
Injuries and death due to gunfire.
Sixty–nine officers were killed in the line of duty by gunfire in 2011, which is a 17% increase from 2010.
Training in safety precautions when handling weapons and ongoing shooting qualifications are imperative; however, understanding where law enforcement training and protection can be strengthened is critical. The increasing incidents involving the unprovoked shootings of officers should be considered in determining appropriate training strategies and approaches.
Premeditated and unprovoked ambush situations.
Ambushes have attributed to nearly 40% of the officers feloniously killed in 2011,
an increase from 31.25% of 2009.
Furthermore, 21.5% of the law enforcement officers feloniously killed from 2000 through 2009 were victims of an ambush.
With these troubling numbers, law enforcement agencies have to prepare for ambushes while patrolling, serving warrants, investigating domestic disturbances, or even conducting routine traffic stops. Developing approaches to counter these ambush–style attacks is crucial to maintaining the safety of officers.
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 on the street provides challenges in the tactical approaches officers use (e.g., Colt AR–15, TEC–9, non–automatic AK–47s, and Uzis). From 2000–2009, a staggering 490 officers were feloniously killed with a firearm, out of which a rifle was used 94 times and a shotgun 38 times.
It is a constant struggle for law enforcement officers to continue to stay ahead of the weapons that are available on the streets. Developing strategies to better equip local law enforcement to address the increasing threats from rifle, long–gun, and assault weapon attacks is imperative.
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. Many agencies participate in task forces for a variety of issues, but, in particular, those responsible for fugitive apprehension frequently face dangerous situations, which often involve apprehending violent offenders with prior criminal records. There are techniques for conducting task force operations to mitigate these risks, but more needs to be done to protect officers as they go about bringing offenders to justice.
Offenders (behavior during incident and history). Providing officers with protective equipment and training is obviously critical; however, supplying them with timely information about the criminal history of potentially violent offenders and helping officers to understand behavior triggers prior to contact to make encounters safer is just as important. Analysts, dispatchers, and police trainers all play an important role in this.
Court security. Providing security can involve some of the most dangerous environments for sheriff´s deputies. Developing strategies to improve safety during prisoner transportation and within the court facility are critical and involves issues such as emergency preparedness, bomb threat responses, hostage situation control, crowd control, high–risk trial procedures, and defensive tactics.
Leadership and Management
Leadership and safety practices. Law enforcement and management need to sharpen their focus on safety issues and hold all levels within the organization accountable for following safety, health, and wellness practices. Leadership means leading by example; demonstrating the importance of safety, health, and wellness through training; enforcing safety practices; and providing resources to ensure ongoing compliance. Command staff, management, and supervisors are responsible for ensuring that policies and procedures are followed and equipment is maintained and deployed properly. Leadership and management are also responsible for ensuring the health and well–being of officers, so officers can think and perform in a manner that safeguards not only them but also their fellow officers.
Equipment. Ensuring officers are equipped, with state of the art equipment, body armor, and weapons, is crucial to improving officer safety. Equipment runs across the spectrum. Keeping the street officer safe by using better reflective markings on cruisers, upgrading to LED lighting, and implementing more effective seat belt mechanisms are some successful strategies. Police belts and uniforms that accommodate weaponry and ensure safe and easy access are crucial. Wearing body armor is one of the most proactive measures officers can take to improve the odds of not being fatally shot. However, due to varying body sizes, they do not always fit properly. The OSW Group recognizes the need to establish an industry standard for measuring and fitting vests to ensure maximum protection. Maintaining weaponry, building police arsenals with arms having sufficient firing capacity to counter the weapons currently used by criminals, and providing readily available weapons from less than lethal to lethal will also lessen an officer´s risk.
Deployment strategies and communication technologies. Many factors are taken into consideration when developing deployment schedules, but some factors may compromise an officer´s safety, thereby placing him or her in dangerous situations without backup, or could contribute to sleep deprivation: e.g., the number of officers assigned per car in a high–crime area; long distances between backup; and night shift officers who have to appear in court the next day yet still report to their detail at their regular time that evening. Another strategy for improving officer safety on the street is enhancing communication technologies, such as real–time reporting systems for officers to query or obtain information quickly about a suspect while in the field and ensuring interoperability capability.
Mental and Physical Health and Wellness
Physical health (e.g., fatigue, alcohol, weight, and nutrition).
An officer´s health can greatly impact his or her ability to deliver policing services effectively and can jeopardize not only his or her safety but also the safety of fellow officers and the community they serve. For example, given the current economy, officers may work secondary jobs for additional income. Consideration must be given regarding the total number of hours these officers work to avoid fatigue and related results: e.g., car crashes and potential irritability when interacting with the community. The mid–year 2011 report attributed 16 fatalities to physical health–related job injuries, yet it did not highlight the staggering number of injuries each year due to physical health.
Officers work in a team setting even when they patrol alone; ensuring that each member of the team is comprehensively fit is crucial. Allowing officers access to gym, nutritional, and wellness programs while on–duty encourages physical health and fitness.
Physical health (e.g., fatigue, alcohol, weight, and nutrition).
Law enforcement officers view the best and the worst of society and have to present a professional, stoic exterior to assist the victims and the community. However, trauma can result from these horrendous events and heinous crimes. Thus, providing mental health resources for the officers is important. Post–traumatic stress disorder and suicide are very real issues in policing. In 2009, 143 law enforcement officers took their own lives in 2009.
Overcoming the stigma of using mental health services and providing more effective resources are crucial for officer safety and wellness.
Maintaining good health. Comprehensive factors that impact law enforcement officers need to be considered to ensure officer safety and wellness. Personal habits, emotional intelligence, and the proportion of on– and off–duty time can all affect the delivery of job– and non–job–related services. For example, officers may welcome overtime—and even shorten their off–duty rest—for the financial benefit; however, this can affect the officers´ concentration and awareness. Although officers have to present an unemotional facade to the community, creating an emotionally intelligent agency is important.
Former military in law enforcement. With the influx of returning military turning to local law enforcement jobs, accommodations also need to be made for the unique needs of these officers. Many former military officers suffer from war–related trauma, including post–traumatic stress disorder. These unique law enforcement officers also deal with trauma from being on the streets. Appropriate services must be provided to ensure that injury and stress from previous military service do not interfere with their ability to provide effective policing services.
Education and training. Training is essential in preparing officers to respond to the rigorous demands of their jobs. While training in the academy prepares the officer for the basics of what to expect, providing consistent and innovative education throughout an officer´s career is critical. Utilizing in–service training sustains an effective and engaged law enforcement agency. Developing innovative education resources that can be delivered during in–service training sessions is important.
Emergency vehicle operation and safety. Whether operating under routine, urgent, or emergency mode, law enforcement must take appropriate measures to ensure the safe operation of automobiles, motorcycles, or even bicycles. Officers face hazards in performing routine patrol, as well as in responding to calls for service and engaging in pursuits. While some accidents may be unavoidable, others can be prevented. These hazards can be minimized through training and education, policy development, the use of existing equipment, and new technology.
Foot pursuit safety. Chases involving fleeing suspects, whether in a vehicle or on foot, represents one of the more dangerous situations that a law enforcement officer can be in. A large number of officers have been killed and harmed in vehicular and foot pursuits of suspects. Better procedures, tactics, and techniques can improve officer safety during these inherently hazardous situations. Police policies and training can also help increase officer safety and should be further explored.
1 See "Honoring Officers Killed in 2010," Officer Down Memorial Page, www.odmp.org/search/year?year=2010; "Honoring Officers Killed in 2011," www.odmp.org/search/year?year=2011.
2 "Honoring Officers Killed in 2011," www.odmp.org/search/year?year=2011.
3 "Law Enforcement Officers Feloniously Killed," in Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, 2009 (Federal Bureau of Investigations, 2010), www2.fbi.gov/ucr/killed/2009/feloniouslykilled.html
4 See "Uniform Crime Reports: Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted," years 2000 through 2009, www.fbi.gov/about–us/cjis/ucr/ucr.
5 "Table 35: Law Enforcement Officers Feloniously Killed with Firearms, Type of Firearm and Size of Ammunition, 2000–2009," in Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, 2009 (Federal Bureau of Investigations, 2010), www2.fbi.gov/ucr/killed/2009/data/table_35.html.
6 "Law Enforcement Fatalities Increase 14% in First Half of 2011; Firearms–Related Fatalities Reach 20–Year High," in Law Enforcement Officer Deaths: Mid–Year 2011 Report (Washington, D.C.: National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 2011), 4, www.nleomf.org/assets/pdfs/reports/2011–Mid–Year–Report–FINAL.pdf.
7 "A Study of Police Suicide in 2008–2009," Badge of Life, 2011, www.policesuicidestudy.com/index.html.
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