Michael J. Carroll, Chief of Police, West Goshen Township Police Department, West Chester, Pennsylvania
his is my first message to the readers of the Police Chief magazine. As I start this most memorable journey in my law enforcement career, I do it humbly.
IACP Presidents traditionally have one or two initiatives that they choose to bring to the forefront during their administrations that they hope to have the IACP concentrate on in the year ahead. I have two such initiatives.
There is nothing of greater importance to me as a police chief than the protection of the men and women on the front line. I realize that in the United States we have witnessed a small decline in officer deaths over the past year. Unfortunately, this is not the case for law enforcement agencies around the world where we have seen violence against our law enforcement colleagues rise, in some cases, quite dramatically. However, Regardless of where we serve, I think that all police chiefs share a common belief—one officer being lost is one too many. That is why I am determined to use the breadth and depth of the IACP to make officer safety my primary goal.
I believe that there are several things that we can do that will lead to a reduction in the loss or injury of our officers. Approximately 3,000 officers have been saved from death or serious injury by protecting themselves with body armor. It is a proven fact that wearing body armor while carrying out the duties of a police officer will greatly reduce the risk of death and injury that our officers face on a daily basis. But, sadly, less than 60 percent of the chiefs and heads of agencies require their officers to wear this life-saving protection while working.
In my opinion this is a serious leadership issue. It is our responsibility, as police leaders, to provide our officers with the best training and equipment available in order to ensure their safety in the face of the numerous and varied threats they face each and every day. And, no step we can take is more fundamental, or frankly easier, than ensuring our officers are provided with and required to wear body armor.
We are responsible for giving our officers the best chance of survival while they protect our communities. I would not want to be in the position of notifying the next of kin of the death or injury of their loved one while the new vest hangs in his or her locker. To those officers that complain that their vests are uncomfortable, I have a simple message. Death is more uncomfortable to your families than wearing a vest that will save your life while you work.
Additionally, it is imperative that our officers be properly trained in order to prepare them to face the multiple dangers, violence, and advanced weaponry they are facing on the streets today. If you study the incidents where our officers are shot, you will find that more times than not they are late to react to the degree of violence that they face and this split-second delay gives adversaries a huge advantage over the officers.
It is my firm belief if we carefully study and evaluate the incidents of violence against police officers in a consistent and structured fashion, we will be able to identify predictive behaviors or actions that precede violence. These indicators could then be incorporated into our basic and inservice training programs to ensure that our officers know what to look for. This will allow our officers to look for indicators of violence, what I call “an expectation of violence,” and allow them to avoid placing themselves in harm’s way unnecessarily and provide them with a split-second advantage over an adversary.
To this end, as president, I will be working to enhance SACOP’s SafeShield program and, with the IACP Research Advisory Committee and Northwestern University, to create a center for the study of violence against police.
I am also committed to reviewing the way we currently train our officers, both at the basic and in-service levels, in the use of firearms and the operation of emergency vehicles. It is my belief that the traditional point-and-shoot firearms training that we provide must become a thing of the past. Each officer must be tactically trained. They must be able to move and shoot, clear malfunctions on the move, and use surrounding environmental realties to their advantage. This type of training will help improve our officers’ ability to emerge unharmed in confrontations with adversaries, even those with high-powered, multi-shot weapons.
If we improve our officers’ preparation in this way, we will increase by a large margin the safety of our officers. I am also happy to announce that the position of the association regarding assault weapons will not change. They have but one purpose and that is to kill, and, all too often, our officers are their targets.
However, as critically important as it is to address the dangers our officers face from criminals, there is an even bigger danger that they face. When you tally up the incidents that cause our officers death or serious injury, you notice very quickly that automobile incidents are a greater cause of these results than firearms. Car stops, pursuits, crashes, and other events where our officers are in control or using the patrol car are resulting in more deaths and injuries than gunfire.
Unfortunately, all too often the only training our officers receive on emergency vehicle operation takes place at the police academy at the beginning of their careers. I believe that rather than rely on training at the police academy, we should provide officers with training throughout their careers to make them masters at operating vehicles under any circumstance. More frequent training in the operation, emergency operation, positioning, and use of the patrol car as both an offensive and defensive weapon will reduce the carnage on the road that kills or injures too many officers every year.
In addition, like requiring our officers to wear body armor, another aspect of reducing the risk of vehicle-related death or injury is a simple, yet critical step that our officers often fail too take. Wearing seatbelts. Far too often, our officers are injured or killed in crashes where death and injury could have been avoided, or at least mitigated, by simply wearing a seat belt.
Over the coming year, the IACP will convene a focus group that will address the issues of officer safety. Through this group, and in working with the IACP Highway Safety Committee and the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration, as well as our partners throughout the nation and the world, the IACP will be publishing training guidelines that will help us prepare our officers to be safe as they carry out their duties to protect our citizens.
The second initiative I propose the IACP become involved in this year is a problem that has resulted from the positive explosion of technology in our industry.
As you are aware technological advances in policing in the last thirty years, such as AFIS, DNA , advances in forensic science, information sharing, and a host of others, have provided us with necessary tools to combat like advances by transnational criminal organizations and the local crime that we fight every day. With these tools available to us, it seems to me that there must be something missing if the solvability rate of serious crimes continues to go down.
I believe that we have gotten away from the basics of police work that cannot be replaced by technology. Report writing, testifying in court, acquiring and controlling informants, and interviewing witnesses and suspects are all basic tools of policing that we have failed to impart to our officers. I feel that there must be a return to these basic practices that starts in the police academy and continues in the training that we provide throughout the careers of our officers.
IACP can provide the training that will change the experience and capabilities that all of our officers need in order to protect the citizens in our communities. It is an issue of leadership, and IACP can bring about the necessary balance between the fundamental skills of policing and the technological advances available to us in order to fulfill our mission.
These are just two areas that the IACP will focus on in the upcoming year. Rest assured our association will continue its proud tradition of service to our membership and the law enforcement community.
In closing, I want to thank you once again for the honor and privilege that you have given me. I want to assure all members, whether they come from our growing international membership or if they serve in federal, state, tribal, or local agencies within the United States, that I will do everything in my power to represent you with commitment, integrity, and honor. ■