By James H. Burch II, Acting Director, Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.
It is 3:00 on a bright, sunny, spring afternoon, and the chief is in his office dealing with a mountain of paperwork, trying to figure out how to convince the city council of the need for the department and hoping to get home before 7 p.m. just one night this week.
Suddenly, he receives an urgent call from dispatch that officers are responding to a shots-fired call in the business district. As he turns up the police monitor in his office, he hears the one radio transmission that no officer or chief ever wants to hear: “Shots fired, officer down.”
These four simple words send into motion a flood of emotion that will affect both the department and the community in countless ways. First comes the response to the call, filled with tense moments when everyone hopes for the best — yet plans for the worst. Then, comes the investigation; the hospital; the emotions; and, all too often in recent months, that dreaded visit the chief or a senior commander never wants to make, informing loved ones that their hero will not be coming home.
In 2010, 160 line-of-duty deaths were recorded. Fifty-nine were committed by gunfire.1 Unfortunately, this trend continued into 2011. Forty-four line-of-duty deaths were recorded as of mid-March, including 21 deaths by gunfire.2
One of the top priorities for all law enforcement executives is the safety and well-being of the men and women sworn to protect and serve their communities. Unfortunately, today’s threats against law enforcement bring new complexities and challenges for executives, command staff, and officers on the street.
Today’s law enforcement professionals face criminals who are better armed and more violent and who demonstrate disdain for authority and disregard for human life. Several examples follow:
- The violent offender who executed four officers in a Lakewood, Washington, coffee shop one Sunday morning3
- The father-and-son team of domestic extremists who fatally shot two West Memphis, Arkansas, police officers and wounded the Crittenden County, Arkansas, sheriff and his chief deputy4
- The lone gunman who entered a Detroit, Michigan, police department precinct, opened fire, and shot and wounded four officers5
- The separate incidents of wanted felons fatally killing officers serving warrants in Saint Petersburg6 and Miami, Florida7
Attacks on law enforcement are happening with more frequency and often with greater violence. Perhaps the most haunting fact is that many of these tragedies are marked with ambush-like characteristics and predatory behavior. The high-profile violent attacks in early 2011 have changed the landscape of policing for agencies across the United States, regardless of agency demographics. Many factors fuel this, such as antigovernment sentiment, violent drug cartels, violent criminal gangs, and radicalized individuals.
To address the growing problem of violence against state, local, and tribal law enforcement across the country, the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, is providing a national law enforcement officer safety training and technical assistance program called Preventing Violence Against Law Enforcement and Ensuring Officer Resilience and Survivability,which is designed to reduce violence against law enforcement and increase officer survivability. This initiative is part of an overall effort from the U.S. Department of Justice to focus on officer safety.
On average, one law enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty somewhere in the United States every 53 hours.8
The number of officers shot and killed surged 24 percent in 2010 from the previous year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Even more alarming, multiple-fatality shootings accounted for nearly 20 percent of the fatal shootings last year. Unfortunately, early 2011 statistics show a continued pattern of officer deaths and an increase in gunfire-related deaths.9
While gangs, drug cartels, and radicalized individuals are not new challenges and threats to law enforcement, the specific challenges and threats they present today are different. Previously, their conflict with law enforcement was rooted in the fact that they were engaged in illegal activity and eluded law enforcement while doing so. Today, however, in many cases these criminals target law enforcement as a part of their criminal strategy. For example, following interviews with gang members by officials from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued warnings that drug cartel assassin teams may target U.S. law enforcement officers.
Research conducted proposes that a successful approach to preventing violence against law enforcement and ensuring officer survivability must take into account and be guided by what the researchers describe as “the ‘deadly mix,’ [which] consists of three components: the officer, the offender, and the circumstances that brought them together.”10 The interaction of these three components will greatly influence the outcome of each encounter between an officer and an offender or potential assailant.
Although law enforcement professionals receive officer safety training during basic training, in-service training, and other programs, this training may not address some of the unique threats facing law enforcement officers today—threats from ambush-style attacks and threats posed by the criminal extremist mind-set—and may not adequately address officer survivability.
Additionally, these training efforts are routinely based on a one-dimensional approach; they may not take into consideration the mind-set of the offender, and coursework is often based on dated research that does not reflect the current trends and changing threat patterns that experts acknowledge today. The problem of violence against law enforcement remains persistent, and the tactics are changing with such frequency that many local agencies lack the resources and expertise to identify and adequately prepare officers for the threats they face while on duty.
The VALOR initiative offers a national response to emerging trends and aims to help agencies adequately prepare officers for the threats they face while on duty. The goal is to reduce violence against law enforcement and improve officer survivability. VALOR will enable the entire U.S. law enforcement community to have access to and benefit from the latest expertise, analyses, tactics, interdiction techniques, and response methods to address this critical problem and to reduce the number of officer fatalities. This goal will be achieved through ongoing identification of emerging criminal threats; the development and delivery of knowledge and skills-based training to effectively address those threats; and the promotion of attentive vigilance among law enforcement to proactively assess ever-changing circumstances.
This long-term officer safety initiative includes a comprehensive and multifaceted training program supported by data collection and analysis, policy development support, and technical assistance. VALOR is designed to reach thousands of officers, law enforcement managers, and policy makers through in-person (classroom and hands-on) and distance learning efforts, resources and publications, and technical assistance.
The program is currently providing regional line officer training and conducting ongoing research. The two-day regional line officer training program is designed to provide participants with an understanding of emerging threats—including those posed by antigovernment criminal extremists—along with techniques for anticipating and surviving a violent encounter, all based on the “deadly mix” framework (officer, offender, and the circumstances that bring them together). The purpose of the training is to promote officer safety, prevent injuries and deaths to law enforcement officers, educate officers about emerging threats, and help officers identify concealed weapons and armed gunmen. Additionally, the training is designed to expand officers’ knowledge of the mental and physical skills required for high-risk tactical situations that may involve active shooters and to help officers understand the importance of self-aid/buddy-aid training.
Several efforts are planned or currently under development that will make VALOR training and resources available to all state, local, and tribal law enforcement. These include a VALOR web portal, additional training for executives and command staff, and a train-the-trainer program.
The VALOR web portal will serve as a gateway to an array of officer safety resources and training. The web portal will house restricted access online training and will serve as a distance learning resource to complement regional training and make the subject matter more widely accessible. The web portal will offer a variety of training modules to meet the needs of varying law enforcement roles—the executive, the commander, the line officer, and more.
VALOR training for law enforcement executives and command staff will be designed following an assessment of recipient needs. The curriculum will be developed and delivered by subject matter experts and will address emerging threats and related policy issues affecting state, local, and tribal law enforcement administrators. The training will be customizable to promote delivery in varying formats: briefings, specialized conferences, state association meetings, and more.
Development of the VALOR train-the-trainer program will begin later this year. The curriculum will provide participating trainers with critical information designed to be customized and utilized to train other law enforcement personnel. In addition to officer safety training provided by subject matter experts, each participant will have access to comprehensive and updated train-the-trainer resource materials. This training will act as a force multiplier, enabling agencies to disseminate knowledge among personnel and helping to institutionalize the officer safety curriculum at the agency level.
VALOR will complement other officer safety efforts under way with Bureau of Justice Assistance funding, including the IACP’s National Center for the Prevention of Violence Against the Police, the Regional Information Sharing Systems’ RISSafe Event Deconfliction System, funding for bullet-resistant body armor, and more.
Officers must maintain an unwavering vigilance to combat the dangers they face. Ever-evolving threats against law enforcement bring new complexities and challenges that necessitate awareness and education. Law enforcement professionals of every rank need training and assistance customized to their roles and responsibilities. The more than 900,000 sworn U.S. law enforcement officers deserve a comprehensive, nationally delivered program based on the latest research and training techniques to ensure their safety in the field.
VALOR training promotes officer safety through increased awareness of emerging threats and emphasizes a culture of vigilance and adaptability in addressing those threats. The VALOR initiative will enable the entire U.S. law enforcement community to have access to and benefit from the latest expertise, analyses, tactics, interdiction techniques, and response methods to address this critical problem and to reduce the number of officer fatalities.
As the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance implements VALOR and related strategies as expeditiously and thoroughly as possible, the men and women of the agency pledge to remain vigilant and fully committed to protecting U.S. law enforcement heroes.
1National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), “Alarming Rise in 2010 Law Enforcement Officer Fatalities,” press release, December 27, 2010, www.nleomf.org/newsroom/news-releases/alarming-rise-in-2010-law.html (accessed March 11, 2011).
2NLEOMF, “Preliminary 2011 Fatality Statistics,” March 16, 2011, www.nleomf.org/facts/officer-fatalities-data (accessed March 16, 2011).
3“Killer of Four Washington Cops May Be Wounded, Police Say,” CNN.com, November 30, 2009, edition.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/11/29/washington.police.shooting/index.html (accessed March 15, 2011).
4Tom Watkins, “Two Police Officers Fatally Shot in West Memphis, Arkansas,” CNN.com, May 20, 2010, articles.cnn.com/2010-05-20/justice/arkansas.2.police.killed_1_police-officers-suspects-bill-sadler?_s=PM:CRIME (accessed March 15, 2011).
5CNN Wire Staff, “Four Police Officers Shot at Detroit Police Station All Expected to Live,” CNN.com, January 23, 2011, articles.cnn.com/2011-01-23/justice/michigan.shooting_1_detroit-police-police-officers-security-measures?_s=PM:CRIME (accessed March 15, 2011).
6CNN Wire Staff, “Two Officers Killed, Man Found Dead after Shootout Inside Florida Home,” CNN.com, January 25, 2011, edition.cnn.com/2011/CRIME/01/24/florida.officers.shot/index.html (accessed March 15, 2011).
7CNN Wire Staff, “Two Police Officers Killed in Shootout in Miami,” CNN.com, January 20, 2011, articles.cnn.com/2011-01-20/justice/florida.police.shot_1_police-director-james-loftus-police-officers-police-veterans?_s=PM:CRIME (accessed March 15, 2011).
8“Facts and Figures,” National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, www.nleomf.org/facts (accessed March 15, 2011).
9“Law Enforcement Fatalities Spike Dangerously in 2010,” Research Bulletin, www.nleomf.org/assets/pdfs/reports/2010_Law_Enforcement_Fatalities_Report.pdf (accessed March 15, 2011).
10Anthony J. Pinizzotto, Edward F. Davis, and Charles E. Miller III, “Deadly Mix: Officers, Offenders, and the Circumstances That Bring Them Together,” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin 76, no. 1 (January 2007): 1–10, www2.fbi.gov/publications/leb/2007/jan2007/jan2007leb.htm#page1 (accessed March 16, 2011).
This article was originally published in the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s Police Chief magazine and is reprinted with permission.