When Are Officers Most at Risk?
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation which designated May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which that date falls as Police Week. Currently, tens of thousands of law enforcement officers from around the world converge on Washington, DC to participate in a number of planned events which honor those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice. The Memorial Service began in 1982 as a gathering in Senate Park of approximately 120 survivors and supporters of law enforcement. Decades later, the event, more commonly known as National Police Week, has grown to a series of events, which attracts thousands of survivors and law enforcement officers to our Nation’s Capital each year.
I thought it was fitting to discuss findings of a recent study regarding situations which present the greatest risk of fatal attacks for US law enforcement. I am honored to bear the name of my father’s first partner who was shot and killed in the line of duty. On September 20, 1966, Patrolman Daniel J. Quinnan was shot and killed when he entered a downtown tavern during an armed robbery. Shortly before Patrolman Quinnan arrived on a routine check of 646 South Wabash, a holdup man had lined several patrons against the wall and ordered the bartender to fill a paper bag with money from the register. Patrolman Quinnan walked in and began to talk with the bartender when the gunman appeared and shot the detective in the chest before he had an opportunity to draw his weapon. The gunman stepped over the fallen detective and fled the scene. He was arrested a few hours later at a hotel several blocks south of the tavern. Patrolman Quinnan was transported to Presbyterian St. Lukes Hospital where he was pronounced dead. The offender died in prison years later.
My dad was not present that day as he was checking on a different tavern while assigned to the Vice Unit as a young patrolman. Before he passed my dad shared with me the grim details of the event as well as the remarkable story of his partner. My dad defined his qualifications for this assignment in the Vice Unit simply “because he could hold his liquor.” However, I knew it was much more than that. These brave men had nerves of steel and were well-equipped to confront the dangers that were present during this turbulent era of vice related crimes. Daniel Quinnan died a hero and I am humbled to bear his name. I was honored to meet his family at a recent police memorial gathering wherein I sat virtually speechless as I listened to the stories of their fallen family member. Certainly, ambush remains a frightening reality for officers today. Below is a look at statistical data concerning situations presenting the greatest risk for fatal attacks.
According to a newly released updated report from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund and the federal DOJ that covers a seven-year span from 2010-2016:
Domestic dispute calls were the most dangerous, accounting for “29% of all fatal calls for service.” In the last two years of the study, this category increased by 7% over earlier rankings. This type of call is most predominantly associated with ambushes. Some of these fatalities involved officers being fired on from more than 50 feet away.
Disturbance calls were the next largest group, down slightly from earlier totals but still representing 13% of total call-for-service fatalities.
Man with a gun calls doubled from previous tabulations to take third place with 10% of fatal calls.
Shots fired was No. 4. “This category of call also increased dramatically” over earlier totals, now accounting for 9% of officer deaths, the report states.
The average time on the job for officers slain on a call for service was about 13 years. In nearly one-third of these cases, “the officers were alone when they were killed.” In 45%, “officers had been advised the suspect(s) might be armed, or they had made prior threats,” the study finds.
Besides analyzing calls for service, the study also rates the relative threats of officers’ self-initiated enforcement activities, specifically traffic stops and investigations of suspicious persons and vehicles.
Traffic stops resulting in fatal assaults on officers dominated this category, accounting for more than half the officer deaths. In 21%, the attack occurred before the officer made contact with the violator, mostly while exiting the squad car or approaching the stopped vehicle. Another 22% occurred while making an arrest. But the greatest number of slayings—nearly half— happened “as interaction with the driver and passengers began.”
Single officers were involved in over one-third of the traffic stop-related fatalities, while dealing with a vehicle with multiple occupants. As a result, the researchers strongly recommend that backup be dispatched on solo-officer stops to “provide enhanced visibility and protection from a crash but more importantly to [allow] the contact officer to run the necessary checks without having to keep an eye on the vehicle and its occupants.”
Ambush– The report reveals that over 60% of the officers assassinated by ambush during the study period “were not on a call or engaged in any enforcement activity. One in five of those ambushed “were seated in their patrol vehicles…. Many of [the others] were simply eating, sitting on post, or…targeted and killed while at their home or on their way home. “The use of rifles was almost equal to the use of handguns in ambush-style shootings, and the overall analysis…showed an increasing distance at which officers were shot and killed.”
In impressive detail, the report counts the toll of officers from a variety of other causes, including blue-on-blue shootings and lack of seatbelt and body armor usage. The statistics are often startling.
For instance, 30% of “officers who were killed in situations where body armor may have provided enhanced protection were not wearing a ballistic vest.” And in one year alone (2016), “52% of officers involved in fatal auto crashes were not wearing their seatbelt.”
The report is titled Making It Safe. I extend prayers and good thoughts to the families of all of the officers who gave their lives for the protections of others. Their sacrifice is not lost on the silent majority.