By Lloyd Perkins, Chief of Police, Skaneateles, New York, and President, New York State Association of Chiefs of Police; and Mark A. Spawn, Director of Research, Development, and Training, New York State Association of Chiefs of Police
rganized in 1901, the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police (NYSACOP) has an active membership of more than 600 police executives and supervisors. This membership represents a diverse group covering jurisdictions ranging from major metropolitan areas to the most remote, rural regions of New York State. Although many agencies have similar needs, there are also specialized concerns for some agencies because of their geographic location, financial situation, and other factors. As a state association, NYSACOP is in a position to help identify common needs and concerns among its constituency.
One of those issues is officer safety. When the current NYSACOP president took office, New York had experienced a 60 percent increase in officer fatalities. To reverse this unacceptable trend, the attitude for change needed to come from the top, in the form of four stated goals:
- Collect existing data on officer injuries and fatalities
- Review existing research on officer safety
- Target specific training areas and standards
- Work to ensure that officer safety continues to be a top priority
The association was able to move quickly in implementing strategies to achieve these four key goals in the following ways.
When a chief needs information or wants to share information in a timely fashion, the NYSACOP Members’ Forum has been the vehicle to reach hundreds of members instantly through its e-mail listserve. Chiefs have used the Members’ Forum to solicit policy strategies on topics such as strip searches, video recording, and fitness-for-duty testing. It is also a useful tool for providing timely information on training opportunities, legal issues, traffic safety initiatives, and officer safety bulletins. Specific to the topic of officer safety, the association asked its member agencies to provide reports and details on situations involving injuries to officers during the performance of their duties. Other safety-related queries have sought out information pertaining to replacement policies for soft body armor, the frequency of firearms qualifications, and the use of firearms training simulators.
Review of Existing Research
Although there is a currently no centralized database to quantify and categorize officer injuries, there are several sources that can be indicative of assaults, trends, and other particular aspects of injuries.
NYSACOP reviewed U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Reports, particularly the Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted report. Association leadership also distributed the FBI publication titled Violent Encounters: A Study of Felonious Assaults on Our Nation’s Law Enforcement Officers to several New York police agencies and considers the material a must-read for every law enforcement executive, supervisor, and officer.1
Training Areas and Standards
With an alarming increase in the number of police officers killed in the line of duty in recent years, officer safety has been an important focus for training initiatives. With increasing interest in conductive energy devices (CEDs), NYSACOP hosted a training program presented by First Deputy Chief Michael Heenan of the Syracuse Police Department. Chief Heenan addressed a large audience of police administrators on his agency’s experience with CEDs. While some departments might just order these devices and adopt a policy, Heenan explained that advance planning and public relations resolved several of his department’s concerns before it deployed its first CED. Many chiefs commented afterward how insightful this presentation was and that they expected to use many of the same strategies in their own jurisdictions.
But NYSACOP’s discussions are not just limited to association members. Recently, association officials attended a joint meeting with representatives from the New York State Sheriff’s Association (NYSSA) and the New York State Police (NYSP). One topic of discussion pertained to an incident management database currently used by state and local governments in Ohio. Alliances with such organizations as NYSSA and NYSP help to flesh out issues and concerns like these, which affect the entire law enforcement community.
Another important officer safety issue concerns exposure to bloodborne diseases. Police and corrections officers are often exposed to body fluids during the course of their duties. When this happens, treatment options for officers may depend upon the information available to them at the time. A typical case could involve an aggravated assault on a police officer in which there is open wound contact between the officer and a suspect. Currently, there is no compulsory process for an officer to obtain information from a defendant. In 2007, the New York Legislature enacted a law that generally requires defendants under indictment to submit to HIV testing. The discussion item was met with common concern among all of the association’s partners. NYSACOP will continue to research this topic and plans to develop a position paper soon.
Recognizing that communications are critical to officer safety, the association is represented on the committee for the New York State Incident Trust, a project that will facilitate real-time sharing of reports and information among several criminal justice partners.
Another area important to officer safety is in the use and operation of police vehicles. NYSACOP advocates for seat belt use by police officers in the course of their duties and provides a model policy for download from its Web site.2
Ensuring Officer Safety Remains a Top Priority
Ongoing Activities: NYSACOP issues several publications and offers training and networking opportunities that help to keep officer safety a top priority for its members.
- Led by NYSACOP deputy director Richard Carey, the NYSACOP monthly e-newsletter provides each member of the association with briefs on news and other events of interest to members.
- The association’s annual four-day conference features high-profile presenters, networking opportunities, and recreation. Topics presented at the conference typically address current and emerging issues in policing.
- A quarterly newspaper titled The Police Chief Executive features stories and reports involving items pertinent to the association and its members. The content of this publication is determined by a Newspaper Committee, which meets quarterly. Contributors to the publication include the association’s president, executive director, and legal counsel.
Position Papers: To assist in officer training and other training initiatives, NYSACOP received a grant for a first-of-its-kind position. The director of research, development, and training is charged with performing field research, evaluating best practices and model policies, and assisting with training programs. In the short time since this position was established, the director has worked on a number of programs and projects, many of which are still under way.
Continuing on the matter of officer exposure to bloodborne diseases, there is no current mechanism to obtain timely blood samples in cases where police officers have been assaulted and exposed to the defendants’ blood. The New York Legislature passed a provision in 2007 to permit sex offense victims to obtain defendants’ blood samples in certain sex offense cases. After conducting research into the frequency of police exposures and the obstacles to obtaining blood samples, the association anticipates making a proposal to the legislature to permit certain public servants to require a defendant to submit to a compulsory blood test.
Another officer safety topic under review at the moment is a review of officer seat belt use. Although many agencies have some type of seat belt policy, the use of restraints while in a stationary vehicle has not been formally studied by the association. A survey will be developed to learn of officers’ practices while in a police car, including issuing traffic citations, completing accident reports, and other activities. Because rear-end collisions have been a major concern and a source of officer injuries, the association sees a need to study the problem and render recommendations that will mitigate injuries and fatalities to officers sitting behind the wheel.
The momentum of the officer safety agenda achieved under current NYSACOP leadership will continue in the programs, initiatives, and training programs that the association delivers for years to come. The association serves as a broker for soliciting information, analyzing data, and delivering important information to members. It is through this special relationship that the association is able to protect and serve the interests of its members while they protect and serve their communities. ?
1Anthony J. Pinizzotto, Edward F. Davis, and Charles E. Miller III, Violent Encounters: A Study of Felonious Assaults on Our Nation’s Law Enforcement Officers, FBI publication no. 383 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, 2006).
2NYSACOP, “Seat Belt Policy,” http://www.nychiefs.org/ModelPolicies/SeatBeltPolicy.pdf (accessed January 8, 2009).