Making It Safer: A Study of Law Enforement Fatalities Between 2010-2016

I received and email on a Study of Law Enforcement Fatalities: Making It Safer from both Retired Chief Jeff Chudwin, a well known law enforcement trainer who has served as the president of the Illinois Tactical Officers Association and, G.I. Wilson who served 37 years in the United States Marine Corps (1969-2006), is currently part of the Adjunct Faculty Palomar College (Administration of Justice) and is the current Commissioner, North San Diego County Gang Commission and has been since 2011. Both have spent their lives dedicated to studying police trends and threats. I have read the full report and believe you will find it of value. This post is a short introduction to the study with a link to the 90 pages for you all to read.

What kinds of calls for service present the greatest risk of fatal attacks for US law enforcement officers?

Here’s the latest grim ranking, according to a newly released updated report from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund and the federal DOJ that covers a seven-year span from 2010-2016:

  • Domestic dispute calls were the most dangerous, accounting for “29% of all fatal calls for service.” In the last two years of the study, this category increased by 7% over earlier rankings. This type of call is most predominantly associated with ambushes. Some of these fatalities involved officers being fired on from more than 50 feet away.
  • Disturbance calls were the next largest group, down slightly from earlier totals but still representing 13% of total call-for-service fatalities.
  • Man with a gun calls doubled from previous tabulations to take third place with 10% of fatal calls.
  • Shots fired was No. 4. “This category of call also increased dramatically” over earlier totals, now accounting for 9% of officer deaths, the report states.

The average time on the job for officers slain on a call for service was about 13 years. In nearly one-third of these cases, “the officers were alone when they were killed.” In 45%, “officers had been advised the suspect(s) might be armed, or they had made prior threats,” the study finds.

SELF-INITIATED ACTIVITY. Besides analyzing calls for service, the study also rates the relative threats of officers’ self-initiated enforcement activities, specifically traffic stops and investigations of suspicious persons and vehicles.

  • Traffic stops resulting in fatal assaults on officers dominated this category, accounting for more than half the officer deaths. In 21%, the attack occurred before the officer made contact with the violator, mostly while exiting the squad car or approaching the stopped vehicle. Another 22% occurred while making an arrest. But the greatest number of slayings—nearly half— happened “as interaction with the driver and passengers began.”
  • Single officers were involved in over one-third of the traffic stop-related fatalities, while dealing with a vehicle with multiple occupants. As a result, the researchers strongly recommend that backup be dispatched on solo-officer stops to “provide enhanced visibility and protection from a crash but more importantly to [allow] the contact officer to run the necessary checks without having to keep an eye on the vehicle and its occupants.”
  • AMBUSHES. The report reveals that over 60% the officers assassinated by ambush during the study period “were not on a call or engaged in any enforcement activity. One in five of those ambushed “were seated in their patrol vehicles.... Many of [the others] were simply eating, sitting on post, or...targeted and killed while at their home or on their way home.

“The use of rifles was almost equal to the use of handguns in ambush-style shootings, and the overall analysis...showed an increasing distance at which officers were shot and killed.”

In impressive detail, the report counts the toll of officers from a variety of other causes, including blue-on-blue shootings and lack of seatbelt and body armor usage. The statistics are often startling.

"For instance, 30% of “officers who were killed in situations where body armor may have provided enhanced protection were not wearing a ballistic vest.” And in one year alone (2016), “52% of officers involved in fatal auto crashes were not wearing their seatbelt.”

The report, titled “Making It Safe,” covers nearly 90 pages and can be accessed free of charge by clicking here. It includes instructive case histories and detailed recommendations for improving performance in countering the panoply of threats to police survival.

The size of this document makes for a long printout, but it’s a treasure trove of invaluable training material and roll call reminders. What I do not see mentioned in this report is the importance of developing an organizational climate for operational success, that requires sensemaking, problem-solving, adaptability, meta-cognition and attention control. These are all intangible attributes and force multipliers, required to move beyond the steps recommended in this report and allow officers responding to the dangerous situations illustrated in this report which have been the leading types of incidents getting cops injured or killed for decades. This will allow officers to adapt these recommendations tactically in unforeseen circumstances and maneuver in context with the specific adversary, time and place.

Stay Oriented!

Fred