Four of our brother officers lost their lives during January, an absolute tragedy for their families and departments. In the aggregate, however, it marks a notable improvement over any January we’ve seen in more than 50 years. In fact, only once in the last 20 years have we seen a single digit level of loss in January and that was 2013 when eight officers died. Particularly notable is that the first month of the year is often one of the more deadly for law enforcement—the average loss for January during the past 20 years has been 15.
So far in 2016 two officers have died due to hostile gunfire and two officers died in vehicle-related incidents, one of which was the result of being struck by a vehicle. Compared to last year at this time we’re down more than 70% with the biggest decline coming in the number of vehicle-related deaths. A summary of each loss is provided below, followed by information on officer safety that every officer and trainer should review.
Remember: Each of you can help improve safety practices, both your own and that of others.
Details on January Losses
The first two losses of the year were the result of gunfire, followed by one officer who died when he lost control of his vehicle and one who was struck by a vehicle. Following are the summaries of those who served their final tour during this past month.
Officer Douglas Scot Barney II, 44, Unified Police Department of Salt Lake (Utah), was the first officer to lose his life in 2016. He was shot and killed after responding to an accident in Holladay, shortly after 10:00 a.m. Upon arrival at the scene he noticed a man and woman who had been involved in the crash walking away from the vehicles. As he attempted to make contact with the pair the male subject produced a handgun and shot him in the head. Other responding officers located the subject on a nearby street minutes later. An intense shootout occurred in which the man was killed and another officer was wounded. It was later determined that the subject had an extensive criminal history with active state and federal arrest warrants. Officer Barney had served in law enforcement for 18 years and is survived by his wife and three children.
Officer Thomas W. Cottrell, Jr., 34, Danville (Ohio) Police Department, was shot and killed in an ambush slaying behind the village’s municipal building shortly after 11:00 p.m. At approximately 11:20 p.m. dispatchers received a call from a female subject stating that police officers in Danville were in danger. She stated her ex-boyfriend was armed and intended to kill a police officer. A check followed and dispatchers were unable to reach Officer Cottrell. A massive search was initiated involving officers from other nearby agencies and his body was found behind the village’s municipal building approximately 30 minutes later. His service weapon and patrol car had been stolen. Officers took the suspect into custody at approximately 1:30 a.m. after spotting him running from a home in the village.
Correctional Officer Adam Conrad, 22, Marion County Sheriff’s Office (Ill.), was killed in a vehicle crash while conducting a prisoner transport at approximately 8:00 a.m. He was driving a transport van through a snowy area near Mount Vernon when he lost control, crossed the center median and was struck by a tractor trailer heading in the opposite direction. Both Officer Conrad and a juvenile prisoner were transported to local hospitals. Officer Conrad succumbed to his injuries. Officer Conrad had served with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office for 1-1/2 years. He is survived by his parents and brother.
Special Agent Scott McGuire, 41, of U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, died nine days after he and another agent were struck by a vehicle that veered onto the sidewalk in Miami Beach, Florida at approximately 2:20 a.m. The vehicle left the scene but the female driver was later arrested and has been charged in the case. Agent McGuire is survived by his wife and five-year-old son. The other agent suffered a broken leg and is expected to recover.
Ways to Improve Safety in a Deadly Profession
Those who wear a badge stand in the gap between good and evil. It can be both dangerous and deadly to take on this responsibility. If a person is committed to killing a police officer and is willing to die trying, there is a certain likelihood they will be successful. The tragic case of Officer Thomas Cottrell this past month is a heart-breaking example of what a determined and deranged individual can do.
However, a sad reality of our profession is that many of our losses are absolutely preventable, compounding a horrific tragedy with the knowledge that it didn’t have to occur. It is these preventable losses where we must concentrate every possible effort so that we can send officers home to their families instead of shipping their body to a mortuary.
It is time to challenge ourselves and each other in a constructive way. Here are five specific areas that every one of you can do, regardless of your rank or position in your agency.
1) Self- and buddy-treatment capability is saving lives: Do you have a tourniquet? Can you access it from either side of your body? Not issued? Then buy one and learn how to use it!
2) Model good practices: Wear your vests, both ballistic and reflective. Use your seatbelt and drive at speeds appropriate for both the call and the conditions.
3) Review your tactics: Improved tactics are showing benefit, but complacency can turn any situation deadly in an instant. Consider using a passenger-side approach during traffic stops and continually maintain a “contact-and-cover” style of engagement when working with other officers. Exercise caution when responding to in-progress incidents and tactically position yourself upon arrival to allow assessment before engagement whenever possible.
4) Courageous conversations: Take the time to engage with officers who push the envelope or take unnecessary chances. Tell them that you care and that their family needs them. Confronting a fellow officer is never easy, but it’s far better than going to their funeral. Don’t wait because you may not get a second chance.
5) Physical health: After vehicles and gunfire, the leading single cause of line-of-duty deaths is heart attacks. Don’t dismiss this as something only relevant to the “old guys.” The reality is that we lost eighteen officers last year to heart attacks and many of them were in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Personal health and physical capability should absolutely be a priority for anyone who’s serious about officer safety. At a minimum you should know your blood pressure, your body mass index your cholesterol level and your family history.
Now do something about it!
Honor the Fallen
Below 100 trainers believe the best way to honor our fallen is by training the living. We know that those who have made the ultimate sacrifice would want nothing less. Below 100 is a program that embraces common sense officer safety by focusing on five core tenets:
- Wear your belt.
- Wear your vest.
- Watch your speed.
- WIN – What’s Important Now?
- Remember: Complacency Kills!
Below 100 is not about a specific number. It’s about every person who wears a badge taking individual and collective responsibility for officer safety. We must continually challenge ourselves to learn from our losses and prevent future tragedies. Just as important: we must have the courage to speak up and engage other officers when their actions are putting themselves or others at risk. Courageous conversations with those who take unnecessary chances are key to improving officer safety. Ask yourself this question right now: “If I had to predict where the next LODD or serious injury will come from in my agency, where would it be?” If you can answer that (and many of you already have not only a situation but a specific individual in mind), then do something about it!
It must be said again and again that cops do not have to die in the numbers that we have seen over the past three decades. We’re making headway in lowering our losses but we must not stop and we must not waiver in our efforts. This is literally a matter of life and death. We have made more progress than many thought was possible, but it has come at the expense of hard-learned lessons based on the sacrifices of thousands of fallen officers.