By Chuck Deakins, Pursuit Trainer
What a tragic year 2016 was for law enforcement line of duty deaths involving ambush, violent assaults and firearms. Depending on the source that you use, LODDs due to firearms are up a staggering 61 percent to 83 percent over 2015, while overall LODDs are up 12 percent to 18 percent over 2015. It is a reminder that we must all stay alert, plan ahead and keep vigilant with calls involving firearms. It is also a time where we must rise above the media hype, maintain our professionalism and stay the course on reducing “all” LODDs across this country.
When looking at the 2016 LODD statistics, it is notable that we continue to lose officers and deputies in vehicle related incidents. The majority of those losses involve pursuits and emergency response to calls for service. LODD numbers that are identified as “traffic-related” are significant. In 2016, we lost 51 officer/deputies to these incidents (up 11 percent) while we have lost 61 to firearms-related (up 61 percent). In years past, we have lost almost as many, and in some cases more, officer/deputies to the “automobile” incidents than to the “firearm” incidents and yet, our recognition of the safe and tactical operation of the automobile is so much less than that of the firearm? It is a pitfall that many law enforcement officers and deputies, tacticians, and trainers fall prey to our own profession’s hype that officer survival only involves physical conditioning, aggressiveness and a command of firearm skills. But, in fact, a more accurate personal officer survival program should include driving skills, good judgment and decision making skills, as well as mental conditioning and interpersonal skill that include deescalation in all situations.
Let’s talk a bit about the 51 officers and deputies that we lost in 2016 to traffic-related incidents and what we as a profession are doing and training about it?
1. Changes in policy and culture
In the old days, we practiced pursuits on graveyards and nightshifts, where finding a pursuit was like taking a lunch; if you wanted one, you took it. However, today the Chief’s and Sheriff’s, along with community and LE leaders have reduced the number of pursuits and emergency responses through more restrictive policy, law changes and an overall cultural change. There are basically three types of Police Pursuit policies in our country: the threshold policy, the balance test and the zero pursuit policy. All are authored with the best of intentions in mind, however the real question is how is the policy actually followed in practice and is our training applicable to the policy?
2. Shifting focus in training
Don’t take this the wrong way; I do believe it is the right thing to reduce unnecessary pursuits and emergency responses in light of how dangerous they can be. The real question is are we still training proper driving, judgment, decision making, and de-escalation skills required of the pursuits and emergency responses that are still authorized and required of our profession. Look back at the numbers again; the contemporary training focus is on the 61 firearms-related deaths, yet we still lost 51 officers and deputies to “traffic-related” incidents. As trainers, shouldn’t we respect driving as much as we respect shooting!
If we can all agree, much like Below 100 advocates, that driving is a critical survival skill, then let’s move forward and discuss how we are actually training to this end.
3. Driving training isn’t just for beginners
In my experience in training throughout this country, I find a very similar mindset within both administrative and line-personnel regarding driver training: it’s for the basic academy recruit and not necessary for the intermediate or advanced officer or deputy because they drive everyday.
It seems that most agencies only consider driving training after a collision has occurred where-in the officer or deputy has been deemed to be at-fault or in some cases if the collision is considered to be preventable. Even in these remedial cases, the remediation of being sent to a high-speed driving class or local cone course often has nothing to do with the real cause of the collision. For example, an officer or deputy may have been driving too fast for the current road conditions and was unable to stop in time for an unexpected conflict and is then sent to a high speed pursuit driving course.
There is also almost no consideration given for close-calls as they are difficult to document and quite frankly, who is going to call a peer out for driving too fast or passing when it was unsafe or not wearing a seat belt? It’s not like they drove up too close on a hot call or put themselves between lines of fire at a hostage situation or chose not to wait for a back-up when one was available and ended up in a bad situation; or is it?
4. Who is driving complacency?
It is examples like the above where I see complacency towards driving and ask the question: who is driving complacency?
First, are you as an operator of an official authorized emergency vehicle driving complacency by taking your driving for granted, not wearing a seat belt, pushing the speed and most of all, believing that you could stop on a dime at any time?
Second, are you the training officer, Sergeant or Administrator/Chief that is driving complacency by not requiring, providing or encouraging driving training that supports safe operation, good judgment and proper decisions while operating an emergency vehicle? Would you not agree that both groups are driving complacency?
So, the point here is that we should examine what we are training for and how much time we are dedicating to high liability, low frequency training? Are we looking at the facts and numbers to base our decisions on? Have we separated “driving training” too far from force options, judgment, decision-making and de-escalation training? If we’re losing almost as many officers to traffic-related incidents as to firearms-related incidents, shouldn’t our driving training remain a high priority for us?
About the Author
Chuck Deakins is Public Safety Specialist for FAAC. Deakins is a retired officer from Santa Ana (Calif.) whose knowledge of simulator training strategies, tactics, and techniques, has led to his success in all applications of simulation instruction.