Steps needed to ensure officer safety
Thursday, September 29, 2016
Among the many news articles connected to the recent events in Charlotte, one stands out for a different reason: Facebook has activated the "Safety Check" option for the violent Charlotte protests. As most of us know, this feature allows one to notify friends and family that he or she is safe in an emergency or disaster-affected area.
With all eyes turned toward the continuous protests against police brutality, is there a "safety check" to ensure officer safety?
A Justice Department study released in July addressed this rising concern over attacks on officers. Analyzing the deaths of 684 officers over five years, the study found officers often walked into dangerous situations with only limited information at hand.
Of all the calls, domestic disputes were found to be the most dangerous. If the department had more tools and resources to warn officers of the risks they might confront in such situations and emergencies, they could be better prepared.
Officer deaths in ambushes in Dallas and then in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, have shocked the nation. Following the attacks, officers across the nation have been traveling in pairs but that — as the Justice Department pointed out — is not enough.
The study suggested a number of steps to ensure officer safety and move aggressively on several other aspects in order to minimize risks from both attacks and accidents. Waiting for backup when it comes to correcting "dangerous behaviors" and definitely on dangerous calls is of paramount importance, as is the use of body armor.
Of course, there are limitations of staffing, funding and equipment that may not make this a smooth path. But since 20 percent of the police attackers used high-powered rifles — as discovered in the Dallas and Baton Rouge attacks — stronger body armor and ballistic helmets are the needs of the hour.
2016 has already seen 93 police officers die in the line of duty across the U.S., and the biggest increase has been in the number of firearms-related deaths and ambushes. Talking to officers and department heads, the study found that foreseeing such attacks is a challenge but should definitely be addressed. Many stated that like sniper attacks, domestic disputes and homegrown radical extremists can be equally dangerous.
Police officers are slain in the line of duty in any given year, we know that. But never have these deaths been as sinister as they are now. The recent bloodshed feels different; it reeks of distrust and fear of police with strong undercurrents of hatred.
The general perception of whether officers are good guys or not has been further hampered with failure of oversight agencies, Justice Department investigations on various departments, and pending cases against many wrongdoing officers.
Fortunately, not everyone can be painted with the same brush, but the inability to understand this has led to an increasing willingness to cause harm to the men in blue. Furthermore, rising violence has made officers hypervigilant and unsure of the public they are meant to protect.
Social media sites, which act as the vehicle for reaching out to millions, offer more embellished or sensationalized versions of events. At times like these, one single negative post can amplify the animosity and public outrage toward law enforcement officers.
Many officers feel overwhelmed and under siege, leading to an untenable situation. We need definitely need reforms in law enforcement and better training to address the racial connotations and violence in offices, but not at the cost of their lives.
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