By Danny McGuire
Last month, I reflected on the loss of Chicago Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer and started to dig into the sad statistics which tell the story of line of duty deaths.
I framed my thoughts around Biblical verses which proclaimed “blessed are the peacemakers: they shall be recognized as children of God” and “No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” That prompted one officer I met to remind me of a simple fact: Many officers have been killed on the job without ever knowing the people they were protecting. This is very true.
I decided to dig a little deeper into the line of duty death numbers during the timeframe of January 2002 through March for some additional perspective. What stood out? The deadliest months have been January and May – the latter, of course, which is police memorial month. The other telling stat indicated fallen officers averaged 41 years old with 12 years of service.
These numbers were part of a conversation I had with officers in one of my classes when the “C” word popped up: Complacency. It’s a word everyone in law enforcement dreads. The feeling, based on the discussion, was that by the middle of your career an officer has probably seen a great deal and handled even more. Complacency kills. People get complacent and their guards go down, which is a recipe for disaster.
Other figures I shared included: 94 percent of officers killed were male and a list of states with the most line-of-duty deaths.
As I usually do, I carried this information with me into chat with cops actively doing the job these days. The topic of years of service and average age was the most prominent. One officer mentioned he was 42 and had 17 years on the job. However, he said he consistently goes to whatever training he can possibly get his hands on. The training helps keep his “sword sharp.”
“I think I probably stopped at least 1,000 vehicles in my 17 years, conservatively and each time I approach a vehicle it is different. I train myself to not say, ‘typical traffic stop’ because I know there is no such thing as that,” he explained. “I want to go home to my wife and my kids each night, and I know that the next time I stop a vehicle could be my last, so my head is on a swivel and I’m always thinking two steps ahead. Now knowing that I am in the average age group and close enough on the years of service, it will keep me even more sharp.”
Comments like that reinforce for me why the work on this project was significant and very important. Understanding where and how law enforcement officers have paid the ultimate sacrifice might help somebody out there keep their guard up particularly those in the middle of their career.
All this made me think of a quote from Sun Tzu who said, “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”
To me it means always keep that “sword sharp” and ready for anything.
Danny L. McGuire, Jr. is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at National Louis University in Chicago, IL with over 20 years of law enforcement experience. Danny can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Read all of his Cop’s Eye View columns here.