By Michael J. Carroll, Chief of Police, West Goshen Township Police Department, West Chester, Pennsylvania
uring the week of May 9—National Police Week—citizens from across the United States honor police officers who have died in the line of duty. During this period, members of the law enforcement profession unite with survivors and other members of our communities to remember and pay tribute to those we have lost.
National Police Week also provides us with the opportunity to reflect on our responsibilities as chiefs to ensure the safety of officers and our duty to ensure that the sacrifices that our fellow officers make are recognized and appreciated by the citizens and communities they serve.
It is our responsibility, as police leaders, to provide our officers with the best training and equipment available to ensure their safety in the face of the numerous and varied threats they face each and every day. It is a critical and unfortunately growing problem. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, over the last decade the United States has, on a yearly basis, averaged 58,659 assaults against officers, 16,188 injuries, and 164 line-of-duty deaths. Tragically, this trend seems to be accelerating. So far this year, law enforcement fatalities are up 47 percent from 2009. This cannot and must not continue.
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 to reduce officer loss and injury. Approximately 3,000 officers have been saved from death or serious injury by protecting themselves with body armor. Facts support 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 lifesaving protection while working.
This is a serious leadership issue. It is our responsibility as police leaders to provide our officers with the best training and equipment available to ensure their safety in the face of the numerous and varied threats they face each and every day. 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 to face the multiple dangers, violence, and advanced weaponry 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 that 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 in-service training programs to ensure that our officers know what to look for. This will allow our officers to recognize indicators of violence, what I call “an expectation of violence;” allow them to avoid placing themselves in harm’s way unnecessarily; and provide them with a splitsecond advantage over an adversary.
To that end, IACP is in the process of establishing the Center for the Prevention of Violence against the Police. I am happy to report that the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety has agreed to partner with the IACP on this important initiative.
The center will gather comprehensive data from all 18,000 state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies in the United States on assaults and other acts of violence toward police officers. Center staff will then analyze that data to provide meaningful, lifesaving information and direction to the field on how to minimize officer injury and death. The essential role of the center will be to learn from the violent-encounter data gathered to enhance the safety of all officers across the country.
It is the IACP’s hope that this research will provide a solid foundation from which we can develop and improve equipment, policies, procedures, training, and best practices designed to reduce the frequency and severity of all injuries suffered by police officers.
The center will work hand in hand with IACP leadership, in particular the IACP Division of State Association of Chiefs of Police (SACOP) SafeShield program. Part of the center’s mission will be to incorporate the body of knowledge the SafeShield project has produced related to the mitigation of duty-related injuries, disabilities, and deaths. Once a nationwide database has been created, the fully integrated work of the proposed center, working in close conjunction with SACOP’s SafeShield project, will offer a tremendous improvement to the safety and well-being of all law enforcement officers worldwide. ■
Please cite as:
Michael J. Carroll, "President’s Message: Seeking to Improve Officer Well-Being," The Police Chief 77 (May 2010): 6,
http://policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display&issue_id=52010&category_ID=2 (insert access date).