Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Wake-Up Call … Heeded

By Craig W. Floyd
Chairman and CEO, NLEOMF

When it comes to officer safety, 2007 was a wake-up call for law enforcement in America. One hundred and eighty-one officers died in the line of duty that year, making it one of the deadliest years for peace officers in two decades.

New data for 2008 suggest that law enforcement executives, officers, associations and trainers heeded the call this year—and the country’s peace officers were safer as a result.

Preliminary figures compiled by the NLEOMF show that the number of officers killed in the line of duty this year has declined by 23 percent when compared with 2007. In fact, 2008 will end up being one of the lowest years for officer fatalities in the last four decades.

Fatal shootings plummet 40 percent

Dissecting the 2008 numbers reveals a number of positive developments. For example, after surging in 2007, both fatal shootings and traffic-related fatalities have fallen sharply this year.

Firearms-related deaths plummeted approximately 40 percent. The 41 officers killed by gunfire this year (preliminary total, as of December 30) is the lowest annual total in more than half a century: in 1956, there were 35 firearms-related deaths. Traffic-related fatalities are down 14 percent this year, after reaching an all-time high of 83 in 2007. Officers killed specifically in automobile crashes—the largest category of “traffic-related” deaths—have fallen by 25 percent.

It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact reasons why officer fatalities rise and fall, and the numbers are certainly affected by a number of forces. One of them is the crime rate itself.

After increasing earlier in the decade, the crime rate in the United States has begun to fall again, according to both the federal government and the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), which tracks crime trends. What the 2008 data suggest is that law enforcement’s success in reducing crime may have contributed to improvements in officer safety as well.

A similar effect may be at work in the area of highway safety. U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters has reported that total traffic deaths are down approximately 10 percent this year—the result not only of Americans driving fewer miles, but also of concerted efforts by law enforcement to make our roadways safer. Once again, the effectiveness of our men and women in blue may be having a positive impact on officer safety.

Greater awareness spurs positive action

As important as some of these larger trends may be, in looking at the dramatic reduction in officer fatalities this year, one cannot discount the impact of increased awareness of the problem in 2008 and the positive actions that resulted.

Awareness. Determined to heighten awareness of officer safety among the general public, policymakers and, especially, the law enforcement profession, the NLEOMF worked to publicize the 2007 surge in officer fatalities. National and local news media covered the story extensively, and officer safety was the focus at a number of training conferences and seminars, including the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), the Big 50 law enforcement union gathering at Harvard and other venues.

Training. With ILEETA and others leading the way, officer safety training took on new urgency in 2008. Trainers placed added emphasis on high-risk entries, responding to domestic violence calls (a particularly deadly situation in 2007), traffic stops and, especially, vehicle pursuits and defensive driving.

Safety steps. Beyond awareness and training, a number of agencies took specific steps to enhance officer safety this year. For example, departments in south Florida and elsewhere began arming their officers with higher-powered weapons to combat the more dangerous guns showing up on the street. In addition, manufacturers such as DuPont continued to work at enhancing safety vest technology, and agencies emphasized the wearing of vests even more. NLEOMF data show that the percentage of officers wearing their vests has increased from just under 50 percent a decade ago to nearly 75 percent today.

In a dangerous profession, areas of concern remain

While trends in officer fatalities were generally positive this year, we all know that law enforcement remains a dangerous profession. Each year over the past decade, an average of 167 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty, and 58,600 officers were assaulted, resulting in some 16,400 injuries. And for the 140 families and the dozens and dozens of law enforcement agencies and communities that lost officers in 2008, the reality is that our law enforcement officers still confront tremendous dangers and still make enormous sacrifices each and every day of the year.

My biggest fear is that some people may use the generally good news on officer safety in 2008 as an excuse to cut law enforcement budgets at the local, state and national levels. Especially as our country confronts difficult financial times, now is definitely not the time to scale back the emphasis on training and equipment that have been so critical to making our officers safer and more effective. In fact, even with the generally good news on officer safety, some areas of concern need further attention:

Female officer fatalities. According to our preliminary data, 15 female officers were killed in 2008, equaling the all-time high of 2002. In terms of percentages, 2008 is the first year in which more than 10 percent of the officers killed were women. As more women have entered and advanced in the law enforcement profession over the years, and as women have taken on the higher-risk assignments traditionally held by their male colleagues, it should be no surprise that more female officers would be killed in the line of duty. Still, the high percentage of female fatalities this year deserves further study.

Offenders on probation or parole. In recent years, as many as one-third or more of the criminals who feloniously killed law enforcement officers were on probation or parole at the time of the offense. While the 2008 figure is still being calculated, the danger posed by these offenders remains acute. In Philadelphia, for example, two of the four officers killed this year—Sergeant Stephen Liczbinski and Officer Patrick McDonald—were fatally shot by offenders under community supervision.

Officers struck and killed. While the overall number of traffic-related fatalities is down this year, the number of officers struck and killed while outside their own vehicles increased. The 17 officers struck and killed in 2008 was the highest total since 2001—this, despite the fact that more states have passed and begun to aggressively enforce so-called “move over” laws. So we most certainly need to work even harder on improving officer safety on our roadways.

As we enter 2009, the NLEOMF will continue to monitor officer safety trends and report our findings. We will pay particular attention to those areas of concern that continue to place our law enforcement officers in the greatest danger. We hope that by calling attention to the latest trends and issues in officer safety, law enforcement can respond even more effectively through enhanced training, policies and equipment—just as the profession did so well in 2008.

Monday, December 22, 2008

All in a Day’s Work: Memorial Fund Staffer Rescues Young Visitor

Thursday, December 18, was shaping up to be a fairly typical late Fall day at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Families and friends of fallen officers had come to honor loved ones and make rubbings of their names on the Memorial walls. Business people rushing to meetings were finding a brief respite in a stroll through the Memorial grounds. And children were there with parents and nannies, enjoying the lion statuary and maybe having some lunch.

As on most days, these and other activities were taking place under the watchful eye of Debbie Catena. Debbie is the Memorial Fund staff member who, for the past two years, has provided on-site visitor support at the Memorial.

Shortly after noon, Debbie noticed that the normally tranquil rhythm of the Memorial had been disrupted. A woman was hurriedly leading a young boy in her charge away from the Memorial grounds and toward the Metro subway. Debbie could see that the boy was in some type of distress, and she headed toward the pair. In Debbie’s experience, most young children who are “having issues” at the Memorial are just in need of a friendly voice and a treat. So Debbie readied one of her signature lollipops for the young lad.

But upon reaching the boy, Debbie could see right away that the situation was far more serious. The 4-year-old was having great difficulty breathing, and his complexion was beginning to turn blue. Complicating the situation was the fact that the boy’s nanny spoke little English, so she could not easily articulate what was going on.

A former registered nurse and an amazing “people person,” Debbie sprang into action. She quickly determined that the boy had been eating a hot dog purchased at a nearby vendor. A piece of the hot dog had obviously become wedged in his airway. Without hesitation, Debbie grabbed the boy and applied the Heimlich maneuver. Debbie used her training and experience as a nurse to customize the technique on the child, ensuring he was not harmed in the process.

After the piece of hot dog was expelled and the boy was breathing normally again, Debbie sat down with him and his nanny and helped them calm down. Typical of her humble nature, Debbie barely said anything about the incident to her supervisors at the Memorial Fund. But once staff found out, they gave Debbie a rousing cheer at the organization’s holiday party on Friday.

Great work, Debbie! You are a wonderful representative of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund and a truly caring—and quick thinking—friend to all of our visitors.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bombings Remain a Danger for Law Enforcement Officers

Although bombings may not be one of the leading causes of line-of-duty deaths among America’s law enforcement officers, this weekend’s killing of two officers in Oregon from a bomb blast remind us of the types of dangers facing law enforcement today.

Captain Tom Tennant of the Woodburn Police Department and Senior Trooper Bill Hakim, a bomb technician with the Oregon State Police, were killed on Friday evening, December 12, as they were investigating a suspicious device outside a branch bank in Woodburn, OR. Woodburn Police Chief Scott Russell was also hurt in the blast and remains in critical condition at a local hospital. A suspect in the bombing was reportedly arrested in the Salem area on Sunday night.

According to research records from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, more than 75 law enforcement officers have been killed in bombings throughout our nation’s history. Some, like Captain Tennant and Trooper Hakim, died because it is their job to disarm bombs before they harm innocent citizens. Others were targeted for death by bomb-wielding terrorists. More than a few were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time—a common problem for police officers.

The first known bombing incident to take the life of a police officer occurred on May 4, 1886. Seven Chicago police officers were killed when a bomb exploded on a city street. The bomb-throwing incident was part of a tragic civil disorder, centered around a labor dispute, which has become known as the “Haymarket Riot.” Killed in the blast were Patrolmen Mathias J. Degan, John Barrett, George Miller, Timothy Flavin, Thomas Redden, Nels Hansen and Michael Sheehand. Some 70 others in the crowd were injured in the bombing.

More than a century later, bombs continue to be a popular and destructive criminal tool. In February 1992, Florida Highway Patrol Trooper James H. Fulford, Jr., was killed by a bomb during a “routine” traffic stop. After pulling a car over for speeding, Trooper Fulford conducted a search of the vehicle. When he picked up a package in the trunk, it exploded. Omaha (NE) Police Officer Larry D. Minard suffered a similar fate in August 1970. He was moving a suitcase he found lying on the floor of a vacant house when the bomb inside exploded.

But, even under the most favorable conditions, explosives can still be extremely dangerous, especially those that are illegally manufactured. Johnny Masengale, a special agent with the then-Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), was killed in May 1992 while preparing to destroy a highly volatile mixture of explosive materials that had been seized the day before. At the time of the explosion, Special Agent Masengale was working with a team of ATF and military explosives experts at Fort Lewis, Washington. As they were preparing for a controlled ignition, the materials detonated prematurely.

Explosives can have deadly consequences even during training exercises. In February 2002, Scottsdale (AZ) Police Sergeant Thomas Hontz was killed while conducting a training exercise in two vacant homes in Scottsdale, Arizona. A device called a "gas ax,” which is used to puncture walls and pump tear gas into a room, exploded. Fourteen other firefighters and police officers were injured in this incident.

In recent years, several officers participating in the war on terrorism have been killed in bomb blasts. For example, several special agents with the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations and U.S. Diplomatic Security Service have died in roadside and other bombings while serving in Iraq.

Trooper Hakim is not the first Oregon State Police member to be killed in a bombing. On October 2, 1997, Sergeant Richard Schuening was working with state and federal law enforcement in locating and removing dynamite and other explosives that were illegally stored on a property in Granite, OR. The 18-year veteran was killed when some of the materials exploded.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Go Blue This Holiday Season

Twenty years ago, a Philadelphia woman put blue lights in her windows during the holiday season in honor of her son-in-law, a police officer who had been killed in the line of duty. This year, law enforcement families and supporters across the United States will once again be decorating in blue to remember those officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice as well as those who continue to serve and protect.

“Blue lights in windows, homes and on Christmas trees during the holiday season are a visible reminder of the service and sacrifice that law enforcement officers make on behalf of all Americans 365 days a year," said Craig W. Floyd, chairman and CEO of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

The tradition traces its roots to 1988, when Mrs. Dolly Craig wrote a letter to Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.), a non-profit organization that provides resources to assist in the rebuilding of the lives of surviving families and affected co-workers of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. Mrs. Craig said she would be putting blue lights in her windows that holiday season in honor of her son-in-law, Philadelphia Police Officer Danny Gleason, who had been shot and killed in June 1986 while investigating a vandalism report. Mrs. Craig thought others might like to share her idea.

Over the years, Project Blue Light has grown into a nationwide initiative to honor law enforcement. In addition to individual supporters, many law enforcement agencies participate in the effort by staging their own Blue Light ceremonies. In the nation’s capital, for example, the Metropolitan Police Department and the DC Chapter of C.O.P.S. decorated a blue spruce tree outside police headquarters using blue lights and ornaments created by the children of fallen officers.

This year, the Memorial Fund is selling blue, LED-battery operated votive candles in its Visitors Center & Store, 400 7th Street, NW, Washington, DC, as well as through its online gift shop. So as you're decorating for the holidays, proudly shine a blue light for the men and women of law enforcement.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

DC Race to Remember Raises $10,000 for Museum

Last month, in the wee hours of Sunday morning, Oct. 19, the first Race to Remember: Memorial 5K took place in Washington, DC. Starting and ending at Judiciary Square in front of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, race participants brought out strong support for American law enforcement - 500 runners raised $10,000 for the Memorial Fund, with all of it going to help realize the dream of building the country's first National Law Enforcement Museum.

Monday, Dec. 1, NLEOMF representatives Craig W. Floyd, Chairman and CEO, and Megan McMullen, race organizer and Law Enforcement Relations Manager, visited DC MPD to accept the check and recognize MPD and the FOP for their invaluable work in organizing the event. Chief Cathy Lanier, Assistant Chief Pat Burke, and MPD Officer and President of the DC FOP Marcello Muzzatti, presented the $10,000 donation and vowed to host the Race to Remember every year to raise funds and help build the National Law Enforcement Museum. Officer Muzzatti was also presented with an award from Chief Lanier recognizing his community service in organizing the event.

The money raised will go toward the $80 million "A Matter of Honor" campaign to build the National Law Enforcement Museum. The Museum will be located adjacent to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC.

The NLEOMF thanks all of those who participated in the Race to
Remember, especially our generous sponsors: Fraternal Order of
Police, Metropolitan Police Labor Committee; Fraternal Order of
Police, Jerrard F. Young Lodge #1; Police Federal Credit Union; and District of Columbia Protective Services.

We couldn’t have done it without your support, our wonderful runners, and race organizers. Thank you!

Interested in hosting a race in your town? Contact Law Enforcement Relations Manager Megan McMullen at megan@nleomf.org or at 202-737-8538.