Friday, February 24, 2012

Police Safety and the Risk of Dying

With so many of us, including myself, pursuing careers in law enforcement, I wanted to learn more about the dangers associated with the job. It is not a surprise to us that dying while serving is a possibility, but it is a concept that rarely crosses our mind. I am not sure how everyone else feels about this topic, but I will be honest and admit that before researching this, I was ignorant of the risk. It may because I have the mentality that “it will never happen to me,” or because I have never given it much thought. Nonetheless, we should all be aware.

According to CNN, police officers consistently rank among America’s most dangerous jobs. On the aggregate, for every 100,000 police officers, 18 will die. The percentage of police deaths is increasing at an alarming rate. In the first few months of the current year, there have already been 20 officer fatalities. According to the CEO of the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, Craig Floyd, the reason for this increase is that "They're taking away training dollars, equipment dollars and manpower dollars. When you cut law enforcement budgets people, including officers, die."

The leading cause of police fatalities is attributed to traffic accidents. "We see a lot of crashes when officers are responding to emergency calls. Officers are different. They want to help and they put themselves at potential life-threatening peril to help others."  Although accidents may be the leading cause of death, the Justice Department found that more and more police officers are becoming targets of ambush attacks. In 2011 alone, firearm related deaths of police officers increased by 23%. In an article published by USA Today, 73% of firearm related deaths were the result of ambush attacks.

The following is bone chilling news clip covering an ambush attack on four police officers.

The person responsible was a man named Maurice Clemmons. Clemmons was a convicted felon in both Arkansas and Washington. Angered by the legal problems he ran into in Pierce County, Washington, he devised a plan that was put into action that fateful day. After two days of eluding the police, he was finally found under circumstances that forced officers to open fire on him.

Police academies around the nation do a great job teaching officers how to defend themselves. Whether it is a form of martial arts, defensive stances, or weapons training, officers are always prepared for the worst. However, no one would have ever thought that sitting down for a cup of coffee would eventually result in the deaths of four police officers.

After thinking about this incident, I began to think. How are police officers mentally trained to accept the fact that they may one day die in the line of duty? Unfortunately, I could not find anything on this topic. Since no information was readily available, I contacted Sargent Wikoff with the Bloomington Police Department. He told me that mental/emotional damage was a topic rarely discussed in the past. However, academies and departments are starting to emphasize this topic more and more. For those of you who may be interested, Sargent Wikoff directed me to this book: Emotional Survival for Police which talks about the emotional realities of policing.

I took my policing class last semester with Sargent Wikoff. Throughout the whole semester, he emphasized what he believed to be the most important rule of being a police officer: going home at the end of the day. After doing light research on this topic, I appreciate his advice even more. If I do get the chance of becoming a police officer, this is advice I will undoubtedly never forget.



  1. I have always been intrigued with how quickly funds are cut from law enforcement when times get tough. In fact, it seems the first two places we look to cut budgets are in protection (police) and education (our schools). It seems to me that these are the two most important aspects of our society and should be touched last. As a criminal justice student, son, brother, uncle, and friend, I also ponder the dangers of my chosen future profession. Even so, I cannot imagine doing any other job and I love the idea of being out in a community and helping in a visible, tangible way. As for the coffee shop shooting, I have read stories from many sources about a recent rise in police department shootings. Apparently, some individuals think it is smart to walk into a building filled with cops and open fire. These stories always amaze me.

  2. I've always thought that law enforcement is underpaid for the work that they do. We see in today's society that it is true about the first things cut when the money isn't there is our school system and police departments. the two things in life that are important to any person due to the fact that we need to be protected and need an education to survive in this world today. This is a horrible thing that has happened to those four police officers, but in reality it could happen to anyone or any police officer in this case. Going into policing I know that there could be situations I'd have to face such as this and many others that could possibly harm me. We all go through training and hopefully it is enough.

  3. I like to think of police work as sort of a calling. You're either a police officer or you're not. Some of the "not" individuals slip through the cracks, but when you go to college for this future profession, it is important to understand the inherit risk involved. My father in law was a State Narcotics officer. He raided homes filled with drugs and weapons on a monthly basis. His advice to me thus far is that the fear of not coming home is something you have to come to terms with. It's something you are going to have to put in the back of your mind on the job because if you walk around on the job in constant fear, well then you've already lost half of the battle. He also suggested a healthy hobby to take your mind off of things.

    I've heard good and bad things about police training. A book I would recommend to ANY criminal justice professional is "Cop In the Hood" by Peter Moskos. He went through an academy and worked as a cop for a year. He explained that seasoned cops were often times "burned out" and told him to forget the crap he learned in the academy because the streets are a different story. I always remind myself that you can be killed in nearly any line of work. Accidents can happen in any line of work. Car accidents take place in a split second and you could become involved in one on your way to a cozy office job sometime. Anyway that is how I reassure myself whenever I think too much about the possibilities of dying on the job one day.

  4. I will admit that I have thought about this topic many times before, but you bring up a few things that I have not thought about. Although some of us may think about how being a police officer may lead to our death, very few ever think about how a person accepts that. Of course there are many jobs out there that come with high risk, but it is a different topic to look into that involves how a person becomes okay with waking up everyday and putting their lives in danger. I also found it very interesting that you said that the leading cause of police officers is traffic accident related. This was the last thing I would have considered if I were to choose which leading cause would be the highest. Finally, I have not heard of police ambushes being that widespread. I knew that they happened, but I did not think that they occurred as often as you stated. It is so sad to think that citizens are killing the people that are trying to protect them and bring them a safe and just community.

  5. It is sad to see police officers die in the line of duty because they are only trying to protect other people. What people should be thankful for is the fact there are people who want to be trained officers and are willing to overcome the thoughts of possibly dying any day on the job. It is really unfortuntate That those four police men were ambuhsed simply because one man was doing wrong and he wanted to take his anger out.