CRANFORD, NJ – Police officers take an oath to protect and serve; they are the ones we call when we are in need of assistance; when we are in trouble; when we are in danger. Their instincts have them run toward trouble every day without regard for their own personal safety.
Anytime a law enforcement officer loses their life in the line-of-duty, the brotherhood mourns, because they are all united by the shield they carry and the oath they live.
Many in the line-of-duty deaths are beyond their control and come at the hands of criminals. However, some can be prevented; with an awareness and some proactive steps officers can take on a daily basis, it gives them a better chance of getting home safely at the end of their shift.
The goal of the “Below 100” initiative is to reduce the line-of-duty deaths to police officers to fewer than 100 per year, a number that has not been seen since 1943. Over the past 10 years the average number of officers killed in the line-of duty is 150.
It began as a conversation around a dinner table about the deaths of officers in the line-of-duty and would become the benchmark of educating officers across the county, about what they can do to help eliminate preventable line of duty deaths.
Captain Joseph VanBergen and Captain Guy Patterson of the Cranford Police Department had attended a “Below 100” training session and immediately felt the need to bring the training to the department.
“We have a very young department and thought it extremely important that the guys see this,” said Van Bergen. The CPD mandated all of their officers attend the training session and offered the training to other members of law enforcement throughout the county. The department held several sessions over the last two months, with the hope that it would educate officers and help to begin the conversation.
“This program offers something for any officer, whether you are a 25-year veteran or a rookie, everyone comes away with a new awareness,” said Patterson.
The program emphasizes five tenets: wear your belt, wear your vest, watch your speed, WIN - What’s Important Now?) and to remember that "complacency kills."
Through a series of videos presentations all five of these tenets brought home the chilling reality of the cost of ignoring some simple safety precautions they could all take.
The Five Tenets:
-Wear your belt and watch your speed: The leading cause of line-of-duty deaths are motor vehicle related. 39% of officers killed in vehicle collisions were not wearing their seatbelts, while 42% were involved a single-vehicle that struck an object off the road.
“I can’t get out of my car fast enough” “The belt gets tangled in my equipment”, two of the excuses used most often for not wearing a seatbelt. While acknowledging some merit to these, a simple change in technique; pulling it away from the belt and uniform and letting it coil into place as their vehicle comes to a complete stop, would enable an officer to exit his vehicle quickly and safely.
“Speed Kills” applies to citizens as well as law enforcement. A quote from Below 100, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should,” officers are urged to assess road conditions, grades of streets, sight-lines, familiarity with the roads and density of the area when considering their arrival times. Those times are likely to be affected by mere seconds if they only slow down.
CPD requires all of its officers to wear a seatbelt and its fleet of cars are equipped with GPS tracking (which monitors location and speed) and cameras that are triggered when the vehicle reaches 70mph.
-Wear your vest: Yes, they are uncomfortable; they weigh about 15 lbs., in the warm weather, they are hot and hold the sweat in and they can limit mobility. However, the pros far outweigh the cons, a little discomfort pales in comparison to the reality of another officer being shot in the line-of-duty. Statistics don’t lie, more than 3,000 lives have been save with the use of body armor both in weapons incidents and motor vehicle crashes. The CPD supplies its officers with body armor and all are required to wear it.
-WIN – What’s Important Now: The goal of this tenet is to bring home the point of the officers’ actions and the decisions they make every day and their effect on the people in their lives. Choices about health, relationships, careers, finance and so on…what’s important now? It tries to get the officers to have an awareness beyond themselves. “The question requires you to consider the present with an eye on the future,” according to Below 100.
“We all have families and want to see them at the end of our shifts, so WIN puts that in the forefront of our minds, we need to think twice about what is important to us,” said VanBergen.
-Remember, Complacency Kills: It’s human nature, the more experienced we become the easier it is to think we’ve got it all under control and often lull ourselves into a false sense of security. There is no need to check off all the boxes, a “this won’t happen here” mentality in particular can be deadly for those in law enforcement. This tenet stresses the importance of mental and physical preparation.
Officers are encouraged to: check and double-check their weapons, keep them cleaned, check their ammo, squad cars, focus on their task at hand, avoid distractions while on duty and stay alert.
According to Below 100, Complacency is a third-person issue: It only happens to others, so I need not fear. Complacency is among the most dangerous and insidious threats we face, because it lays us open to all other.
For VanBergen and Patterson the training sessions offer invaluable lessons “We need to change the culture, be courageous and start the conversation.”
“There is plenty out there we can’t control but there are simple things we can do every day to keep us safe and get us home at the end of the day,” said Patterson.
“These are five easy things we can all do and maybe improve our chances in an emergency situation,” said VanBergen.
According to the website www.below100.org, the goal of the program is to influence law enforcement culture by providing innovative training and awareness, through presentations, social media, and webinars on identifying the leading causes and current trends in preventable line of duty deaths and injuries.