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Crisis of Our Own Making

Written by Scott Oldham

With the dawn of a new year, everyone hopes the new one will be better than the one before it. But the sad fact is, in terms of officers shot, 2011 is starting out on pace to be record breaking. Almost daily there is another incident, another fallen officer: Miami; St. Petersburg, Fla.; Indianapolis; Detroit; Lincoln City, Ore.; Port Orchard, Wash. Many more incidents will follow, many more will be injured and many more will die.

Without a doubt, the end result in some of the situations could not have been prevented no matter what the officer or any assisting officer did. Also, in some cases there was nothing that the officer could have been equipped with that could have prevented injury or death. That said, it is time to start stacking the deck in our favor. It is time to take a hard look at how we, as supervisors, agency heads and trainers, can help the officers in their fight for life.

Gone are the days of Mayberry—if they ever existed. Gone are the times when some areas of the country seemed immune to violence. Now it can happen at any time, to any of us, anywhere, from small towns to large cities to back country roads. Today, cops are dying in record numbers.

Most supervisors have been at the job of law enforcement for a long time. Most have some years on them, and most have cheated the odds more than a few times. Complacency has set in for some, while for others it was the default setting. It is a flaw within some that they cannot see the writing that is now on the wall. They cannot, or will not, see what we need to do to give our officers a fighting chance.

This column has always had the mantra of positive, proactive training: train, train, train. Why? Because cops are dying in record numbers, and we as supervisors must do our utmost to stop it. Why? Because that, above all, is your first responsibility as a supervisor: to make sure all your people go home alive. Unfortunately, that will not always be possible. However, excuses for why it can’t be done ring hollow when one of your people lies on the ground bleeding out.

“We didn’t have the budget,” or “We didn’t have the manpower,” or “We didn’t have the expertise,” all would make weak opening statements at a eulogy and do very little to comfort the officer’s survivors.

It is time to realize that even if an agency has a good firearms training program, and not all do, that only covers half of the equation. Learning how to hit a target is important, and it is where we seem to focus. However, just as important is training in what to do when we get shot or traumatically injured in another way. How many officers have been taught the difference between a life-threatening wound (one that must be treated immediately) and a wound that they can fight through (one that is a hindrance but will not quickly result in their death)?

Never mind what might be out in the squad car or how many officers have emergency medical equipment on their person—when they are in the fifth-floor apartment where they just got ambushed and are now fighting to live, how many have been taught to use materials commonly found in their everyday environment to create a field expedient tourniquet, or to find the wound-packing material necessary to stave off blood loss?

We are creating a crisis of our own making by not training officers to meet the dangers that now confront them. “Doing what we can” and cautioning them to “be careful out there” is not a form of training.

The military long ago learned that all troops must have the knowledge of how to not only take a life, but save one. These training programs, known as the Combat Lifesaver and the Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) programs, have paid huge dividends in lives saved. As such, it is time for law enforcement to teach its officers how to care for themselves to a much greater degree than ever before.

Cops are getting shot and dying at a higher rate than ever before. We must teach tactics, firearms and medicine until they are proficient to the point where they can do it on demand, anywhere and at any time, using anything at their disposal. Anything less and we are killing our own.

Scott Oldham is a lieutenant with the Bloomington, Ind., Police Department. After 18 years with the department’s tactical unit, Lt. Oldham recently left the team after serving in various capacities, including team commander. He can be reached at oldhams@bloomington.in.gov.

Published in Law and Order, May 2011

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