Mark A. Marshall, Chief of Police, Smithfield Police Department, Smithfield, Virginia
he horrific shootings of multiple police officers already in 2011 have made officer safety a large issue on my mind and on the minds of every police chief in this country. After witnessing a nearly 40 percent increase in the number of officers killed in the line of duty in 2010, we have observed that 2011 so far has been even more deadly. It is imperative that we continually evaluate and develop techniques that will protect our officers when they are confronted by someone who will not hesitate to injure or kill them. We owe this to those who put their lives on the line every day for the freedoms we cherish.
In recent years, the IACP has launched a number of innovative programs to address officer safety issues. In 2002, the IACP division of State Associations of Chiefs of Police (SACOP) created an initiative dedicated to protecting our nation’s law enforcement officers. This initiative, the SafeShield project, champions the conviction that the only acceptable belief is zero officers killed or injured.
To reach this goal, SafeShield has advocated that law enforcement executives adopt a cultural shift toward the opinion that injuries are preventable. Safety must become a priority and agencies must become familiar with the importance of supervising for safety. It is the belief of SafeShield that although we have limited control over dangerous situations an officer may face in the line of duty, we can control the outcomes through comprehensive planning.
But in order for law enforcement leaders to fully implement this philosophy and begin supervising for safety, they need information, tools, and resources.
To that end, there are several projects under way at the IACP that must be noted.
First, in partnership with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), U.S. Department of Justice, the Reducing Officer Injuries: Developing Policy Responses project has been collecting data since July 2010. This project examines 18 agencies (including state and local law enforcement) and charts the number and type of injuries that occur on a daily basis. The data collected will allow the IACP to educate lawmakers on what type of funding is needed to reduce injuries to our fellow law enforcement members.
Second, the Law Enforcement Stops and Safety Subcommittee (LESSS) was created in 2003 to create a safer working environment for police officers during traffic stops and other roadside contacts. It has produced two reports: Staff Study 2004 and 2006 Staff Report, as well as four roll-call training videos: Is Today Your Day? (2010), Saving Lives . . . One Stop at a Time (2008), P.U.R.S.U.E. (2007), and Your Vest Won't Stop This Bullet (2005), all of which have been widely distributed in the law enforcement community. LESSS has worked to safeguard officers’ lives through initiatives such as the development of the Public Safety Vest, designated ANSI/ISEA 207-2006, which was among the high-visibility safety apparel for highway workers mandated in the 2009 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways. It also worked with the Federal Highway Administration to secure a high-visibility wear policy that reflected the nature of police officers’ multiple and diverse responsibilities, recognizing that they are the only highway workers who need to be visible at certain times and inconspicuous at other times.
Third, I’m pleased to announce that we are continuing the work of an important initiative: The Center for the Prevention of Violence Against the Police. The center, under the SafeShield banner and funded by the BJA, will gather comprehensive data from 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.
Steps also exist that we can take immediately to help protect our officers. During their careers, law enforcement officers are thrust into myriad situations over which they lack control and sometimes are seriously injured or killed. Not wearing their body armor or failing to wear their seat belts should never be included among those situations. Yet each year, the failure of officers to wear body armor or use seat belts needlessly continues to rob agencies and families of dedicated officers. Studies have shown that only 60 percent of law enforcement officers wear their vests, and a recently released National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study found that over the last 29 years, 42 percent of officers killed were not wearing seat belts. That equals 311 officers whose deaths might have been averted had they simply chosen to buckle up—that is, do for themselves what they cite others for not doing. As police leaders, we can and must do all that we can to reduce these horrific numbers. We must do all that we can to give our officers the best chance of survival while they protect our communities.
I urge each of you to encourage each of your officers to take the fundamental and critical steps of wearing body armor and using seat belts to protect their safety and to ensure that they go home at the end of the day. ■
Please cite as:
Mark A. Marshall, "Protecting Those Who Protect Us," President's Message, The Police Chief 78 (March 2011): 6.