By Kent Barker, Chief of Police, Tualatin, Oregon, Police Department; and General Chair, Division of State Associations of Chiefs of Police
s a police chief, I am always looking for ways to improve our department and better protect those who serve our agency. However, as the chief of a small agency with 38 sworn officers, I am often faced with challenges to accomplishing this task with limited resources and the need to implement programs that are designed for and tested at large agencies. This is why when I was asked to have our department participate in the Reducing Officer Injury (ROI) research project at the IACP, which examined the injuries to police officers, I was excited to take part and hoped that the results would help us reduce injuries and improve our agency. The ROI project began last year as part of a longitudinal research effort lead by the IACP SafeShield initiative. The focus of the project was tracking and reporting all officer injuries for a period of one year. One of the benefits of the project was that we began to look very closely at officer injuries and think about the problem in new ways.
Through this effort, we found a number of overall trends regarding our injuries. A few of the findings are summarized below:
- Injuries were spread across all shifts and years of service.
- All but one injury occurred in patrol assignments.
- Only half of those that reported injuries participated in some type of wellness program.
- Only half of those injured reported exercising regularly.
- All but one injury occurred in between the first one to four hours of the officers’ shifts.
- All injuries occurred on the officers’ first or second days of their workweeks.
- Types of injuries ranged from contusions to sprains to broken bones and were spread across all parts of the body.
- All of the injuries required medical treatment, raising cost concerns.
- Types of incidents ranged from training (in-service defensive tactics) to automobile crashes to affecting arrests.
- Despite the small agency size, we lost a total of 134 days of work over the course of the year.
What These Findings Meant for Our Agency
The results allowed us to better understand exactly where, among whom, and how injuries were occurring in our agency, which allowed us to begin to develop strategies for prevention. Just the tracking of injuries more closely was an important step that built awareness within the agency regarding the issue. We asked more questions of the injured officers and involved the street-level supervisors as the ones to complete the tracking forms provided to us with the ROI project.
For example, with the information that injuries were occurring mostly in patrol and during all shifts, we specifically identified our street-level supervisors as instrumental in generating solutions to prevent injuries to our personnel. We started to change ou mind-set and refused to accept injuries as a necessary part the job. Street-level supervision is key to impacting patrol actions, and we believe this is a critical way to address the issue at this level.
In addition, since only half of the officers injured indicated that they participate in a wellness program and exercise regularly, this may be part of the reason for their injuries. This is an area we will need to review more critically to determine a better way for officers to take physical fitness more seriously.
A few years prior to our participation in the ROI project, our department implemented a physical fitness incentive to our sworn personnel. This program links a financial incentive to officers passing an annual fitness test. We have seen positive results using this program and have seen our injuries decrease by more than 50 percent since its implementation. So, although we have improved our efforts to reduce injuries, we still have an unacceptable number of injuries and more work to be done. We believe our fitness incentive will continue to be part of a healthy and fit agency, but we may need to modify the incentive to encourage our officers to stay fit throughout the entire year and not just during the few weeks prior to the annual fitness exam.
Overall, taking steps such as these to better track and ultimately reduce officer injuries are important for law enforcement agencies. Doing so can result in reducing the costs of medical care, wages during missed work hours, and overtime to replace officers during days missed. Addressing these cost concerns will lead to significant financial savings and will allow our agency to use those valuable resources in other areas that are much needed.
What You Can Do to Help
This is just one program that can be used to help reduce officer injuries and increase officer wellness and safety. Moving ahead, the IACP is interested in what your agency is doing to address your own injury challenges. If you are willing to share the programs and strategies that you are implementing to address officer injuries, please email the IACP, Division of State Associations of Chiefs of Police, Manager Erin Vermilye at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Doing so will enable the IACP to help spread the word regarding ways that injuries can be prevented among law enforcement officers. Information sharing is key to the success of this effort and we look forward to learning from your agencies as well.
Finally, if your agency is interested in taking part in tracking its own officer injuries with the help of the IACP, you can volunteer to take part in the next phase of the ROI project. Please email Erin Vermilye at email@example.com for more information. ♦
|The Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice partners with the IACP on two officer safety–related initiatives. One is the Reducing Officer Injuries project. The other is the National Center for the Prevention of Violence Against the Police.|
Please cite as:
Kent Barker, "Tracking Officer Injuries: A Chief’s Duty," Officer Safety Corner, The Police Chief 79 (July 2012): 14.