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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
Each year the FBI releases an annual report that speaks directly to the grim fact that law enforcement officers do not only address violence, but also often experience it, and the physical and psychological tolls it brings. The physical and violent reality of law enforcement compounds other routine occupational stressors like shift work, low morale, and high-pressure and emotionally taxing encounters. Personal stressors also take an effect such as interpersonal relationships, significant life events, and general physiological and mental health.
This past October, the FBI released its 2016 edition of the Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) report, the most comprehensive data collection of its kind. More officers were reported killed, assaulted, and injured in the line of duty than in the previous year.1 Among the agencies reporting to LEOKA, there was roughly one assault for every 10 officers, for a total of 57,180 assaults.2 Most (78 percent) of these assaults involve “personal weapons,” but often (31 percent of the time) result in injuries nonetheless. In relative terms, firearms are used less frequently than personal weapons; however, the 2,377 firearm assaults against officers reported in 2016 is substantial. This data shows that, every day, at least six officers are threatened with a firearm while protecting and serving the public.3 Nearly 300 officers sustained injuries as a result of these encounters, and most (94 percent) of the 66 felonious deaths of police were from handguns, rifles, and shotguns.
The issue is persistent and reflects the nature of law enforcement at the street level. Over the past decade, LEOKA has documented around 50,000 total assaults—2,000 involving firearms—each year. In response, the field has documented and promoted a myriad of training, policies, and procedures to address officer safety and wellness in volumes of research papers, best practice articles, and professional reports. The COPS Office has worked with the field to highlight these promising solutions, such as the following:
A great deal of knowledge and resources have been developed to enhance officer safety and wellness. Some of these practices, like wearing body armor, have been widely adopted, but are still without universal acceptance and use throughout the field. Throughout the country, law enforcement agencies conduct incident reviews of serious assaults and other critical incidents, which identify lessons learned and help improve practices and enhance officer safety. The groundbreaking Blue Alert system has been adopted in a majority of states across the country, aiding the rapid transmission of information to law enforcement, media, and the public about violent offenders who threaten the lives of officers.8 Counseling practices have benefited from a strong knowledge base in the mental health and social services field. These practices seek to address the trauma endured by officers, as we learn the implications for officers and their relationship with the communities they protect. As noted in this issue of the Dispatch, law enforcement agencies are beginning to implement programs than emphasize mindfulness as a way of managing and reducing stress among their officers.
While the progress is impressive, we are still in the emerging stages of understanding what works and how to institutionalize those practices throughout the field. Local governments, advocates, researchers, and federal partners should do everything possible to provide state-of-the-art and scientifically-sound practices that protect and serve law enforcement as police officers put their health and well-being on the frontlines for all of us. As outlined in the Presidential Executive Order on Preventing Violence against Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement Officers.9 the Department of Justice is committed to leading on this issue. Doing so will require continued investments in research, training, and technical assistance that meets the demands of the field.
Senior Program Specialist (COPS)
COPS Office Officer Safety and Wellness Resources
Blue Alert System
The Center for Officer Safety and Wellness
Law Enforcement Officer Safety Toolkit
CrimeSolutions.gov Health and Mental Health Program Reviews
National Center for Trauma-Informed Care and Alternatives to Seclusion and Restraint
1 Federal Bureau of Investigation, “FBI Releases 2016 Statistics for Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted in the Line of Duty,” press release, October 16, 2017, https://www.fbi.gov/news/pressrel/press-releases/fbi-releases-2016-statistics-for-law-enforcement-officers-killed-and-assaulted-in-the-line-of-duty.
2 Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2016 Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (Washington, DC: Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2017), https://ucr.fbi.gov/leoka/2016/officers-assaulted/assaults_topic_page_-2016.
3 Nearly a quarter of law enforcement agencies do not report assault data to the FBI.
4 Deborah Spence. Improving Law Enforcement Resilience: Lessons and Recommendations. Officer Safety and Wellness Group Meeting Summary (Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2017).
5 Joseph B. Kuhns et al., Understanding Firearms Assaults against Law Enforcement Officers in the United States. (Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2016).
6 George Fachner and Zoë Thorkildsen, Ambushes of Police: Environment, Incident Dynamics, George Fachner and Zoë Thorkildsen, Ambushes of Police: Environment, Incident Dynamics, and the Aftermath of Surprise Attacks Against Law Enforcement (Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2015).
7 Julia Hill et al., Making Officer Safety and Wellness Priority One: A Guide to Educational Campaigns (Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2014).
8Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, “National Blue Alert Network,” fact sheet, (Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2017) https://cops.usdoj.gov/pdf/blue-alert/Blue_Alert_Fact_Sheet.pdf.
9 The White House, Presidential Executive Order on Preventing Violence Against Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement Officers, February 9, 2017, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/02/09/presidential-executive-order-preventing-violence-against-federal-state.
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