Walter A. McNeil, Chief of Police, Quincy Police Department, Quincy, Florida
hen I had the honor to be sworn in as your president last year in Chicago, I vowed to you that, during my term, the first priority of the IACP would be to continue a comprehensive violence against police officers reduction strategy. I promised that the IACP would continue the work of IACP Past President Michael Carroll and the State Association of Chiefs of Police (SACOP) Division in working to find ways to prevent violence against and injuries to police officers. I stated that the work of the National Center for the Prevention of Violence against the Police and SACOP’s SafeShield Initiative will be strongly supported and given the highest attention during this operating year. I am proud to say that the safety of law enforcement officers continues to be the IACP’s top priority.
One look at the line-of-duty death and injury data supports this singular focus. Between 2001 and 2010, 541 officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty. During that same period, 418 officers lost their lives in automobile crashes. In addition to these staggering numbers, countless others have died in myriad other line-of-duty accidents. This is not to mention the sometimes seemingly forgotten who have taken their own lives. One cannot deny the devastating effects these tragic events will have on agencies, but we should not ignore the severity of the impact of the nonfatal events as well. From a psychological, fiscal, and overall safety perspective, the reverberations of these incidents can be far reaching.
Although the prospect of addressing these wide-ranging issues may seem daunting, it is a necessary process we all must go through to ensure our officers are safe. It is understood that such a change will take time, but, in the interim, there is much we can address today to make certain our officers are equipped to face the dangers in the field.
According to FBI Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) data, of the 541 officers feloniously killed in the line of duty between 2001 and 2010, nearly 36 percent were not wearing body armor. This troubling figure is further supported by The BJA/PERF [Bureau of Justice Assistance and Police Executive Research Forum] Body Armor National Survey: Protecting the Nation's Law Enforcement Officers, available at http://www.policeforum.org/library/police-equipment/Full%20COLOR%20Body%20Armor%20Report.pdf (accessed April 11, 2012). The survey found that more than 55 percent of respondents did not have a written mandatory wear policy in place within their agencies. Furthermore, 90 percent did not conduct inspections for fit and maintenance issues. From the establishment of the mandatory wear policy to its enforcement to the fit and upkeep of the vests themselves, it is imperative that executives address these issues within their agencies.
As evidenced by the data collected by IACP/DuPont Kevlar Survivors’ Club, saves from vest use extend beyond ballistic incidents. This critical lifesaving protection could prove invaluable in surviving anything from a fall to a motor vehicle crash. This is why the IACP passed a resolution in 2011 calling for all agencies to adopt mandatory wear policies.
Seat Belt Use
It is clear that vests play a critical role in survivability and officer safety. However, one cannot discuss preventative officer injury and fatality measures without addressing seat belt use. In 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a report titled Characteristics of Law Enforcement Officers’ Fatalities in Motor Vehicle Crashes, available at http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811411.pdf (accessed April 11, 2012). The report found that between 1980 and 2008, 733 law enforcement officers were killed in passenger vehicle crashes. Of these 733 fatalities, 42 percent did not use any restraint system. I recognize the importance of decreasing the rate of these tragic occurrences as my home state of Florida is among the top percentile in law enforcement motor vehicle crash fatalities. Therefore, how do we address this problem today while maintaining a long-term focus on prevention? The short term answer is clear: Seat belt use. That is why, in 2011, the IACP also passed a resolution calling for mandatory seat belt use policies to be implemented in all law enforcement agencies.
If your agency does not have a mandatory seat belt use or vest wear policy, I call on you to adopt one now. There is no doubt that no one association, agency, or person alone can address the issue of officer safety. We need to take a holistic approach to officer safety—from vest use and seat belt wear to officer wellness. In order to better understand and address the issues facing our field today, it is incumbent upon us to begin to look at officer safety in a different way. The approach needs to address both the officer and the person. And my promise to you is that the IACP will continue to make this issue a top priority and continue to work hard to identify and better define not only the issues facing law enforcement today but also the solutions. ■
Please cite as:
Walter A. McNeil, "Officer Safety: A Call to Action," President’s Message, The Police Chief 79 (May2012): 6.