Important Article

Career Survival
with Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith

P1 Exclusive: What do the mid-year stats mean for American cops?

We’ve all seen the headlines: “Police officer deaths down 41 percent at mid year!” Unquestionably, this is good news for American law enforcement, however, let’s not forget a few key facts:

June 2008 was the second deadliest month of the year with 13 officers killed in the line of duty. Not since 2002 have we lost more than one officer to an edged weapons attack, and yet already this year we’ve lost two correctional officers who were stabbed to death within five days of each other on opposite ends of the country; the female officer was also raped.

As of July 29th, thirty-two officers died in vehicular incidents, three were killed with rifles at long range, at least one was slain with a shotgun. Four officers were killed while off duty, two in SWAT operations. Others were killed doing “routine” police work, serving warrants, responding to domestics, making traffic stops, dealing with EDP’s; two were even slain just attending a city counsel meeting.

Frankly, sixty one dead cops seven months into the year is nothing to celebrate. Instead, let’s use it as a call to action and get back to basics.

Vehicles and Traffic are Dangerous Business:

We’re always concerned about getting shot, and yet consistently more of us die in vehicle related incidents than by gunfire. Slow down and wear your seatbelt. Make sure you have a reflective traffic vest when doing traffic control. Try not to let the computer, the radio, your cell phone and the myriad other things distract you; driving is a dangerous activity, and yet we rarely train for it as much as we should. Wear your body armor, it can save your life in a bad crash.

Don’t Rush In:

In the “Control Process” section of the Street Survival seminar, we talk allot about not “rushing in.” Let’s face it, we’re anxious to get to the call, to get through the door, to get our hands on the bad guy, to get the job done. It’s a cop’s nature to want to do things NOW. Train yourself to slow down, to take that extra half second to assess the situation, really look around, take a couple of cleansing breaths, and do what you have to do to get focused on the entire situation at hand.

Make “Routine” Your Enemy:

At the last fifty domestic disputes I went to, the worst thing that happened is that someone got TASERED. During the last fifty traffic stops I made, the worst thing I faced was someone who gave me attitude. I’m sure it’s the same for most of you. One of the techniques we teach is using the color codes of Col. Cooper to reinforce the proper mindset. Make sure you’re minimally “Condition Yellow” on duty (and sometimes off duty); have an active awareness of your environment at all times. It’s easy to give in to the evil that is “routine,” and you have a responsibility to fight it, not only in yourself, but in your co-workers as well. Ask yourself at the start of every shift, “Am I ready?” “Am I focused?” And then make sure that the answer is a rounding “Yes!”

When You Go Off Duty, You Don’t Go Off Threat:

Whether you’re working an off duty job, heading home from work, or finding yourself involved in police action unexpectedly at the grocery store, are you prepared? There is not a single cop in this country who doesn’t wish that he or she had been sitting in that church in Knoxville, TN, armed and ready to stop that threat. Do you carry off duty? Is your gun accessible? Have you taught your family what to do to help you and help themselves? That said, make sure you are prepared to properly identify yourself to responding uniformed officers.

Remember Who and What You’re Living For:

Perspective is a wonderful thing, and so is the proper motivation. As I look at the profiles of all sixty one officers killed, I see the children, spouses, parents, and friends left behind as well as the heartache of the officers’ agencies, communities, and this profession., As Concerns for Police Survivors (COPS) will tell you, the aftermath of a line of duty death is unimaginable. (you could hotlink to an interview Dave did with the COPS president on P1TV if you want) You work hard for your community and your agency, but you live for your family, your friends and yes, for yourself. Make sure you have a survivor’s mindset; see that warrior in the mirror every day; and also see the person who has a strong belief system, an optimistic outlook, and the will to win!

As we demonstrate in the Street Survival seminar, one of the best ways to honor our fallen is to learn from them, to remember them, and to remember their sacrifice. Celebrate the fact that officer deaths are down, but keep in mind that officer assaults, which largely go unreported but can be devastating to an officer and his or her family, are still at the same level they’ve been for the past ten years, and traffic-related incidents are consistently on the rise.

Work hard every day to stay mentally and physically ready to “serve and protect.” Stay safe!

Sergeant Betsy Smith has nearly 30 years of law enforcement experience, and she currently serves as a patrol supervisor in a Chicago suburb. A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety’s School of Staff and Command, Betsy is a police trainer, author and instructor for the Calibre Press Street Survival Seminar. She can be reached at [email protected].

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