Interesting fact: Rookies are not the majority of officers that are getting killed on the street.
We all agree, there is no substitute for experience. In that case, why are officers with an average of over a decade on the job the very same officers being killed in the line of duty? Why aren’t the clueless rookies the ones walking into bad situations and getting themselves in over their head? It would make sense, lack of experience and all, right?
Please note that line of duty deaths is not a light topic. These officers and their families have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the performance of their duties. I am going to review some of the facts in order to see what we can do differently, in order to keep more of the good guys alive.
I am going to take a big step out from the mainstream and say it is experience that is getting these officers killed.
I know, experience kills is a big step. How else can you explain that out of 541 officers murdered in the line of duty in the last decade, only 10 had been on the job less than 1 year? The average for that very same decade consistently ranges from 10-12 years on the job. You can refer to the complete chart and data below. This is of course a multifaceted problem, with many issues all applying simultaneously.
I am going to focus on experience and training for the moment. Rookies are relying on their training, they don’t have experience to rely on. They are also using the most current practices and tactics available, and things do change at the academy over 5-10 years. After hundreds, if not thousands of hours of training, they are alert and eager to get to work.
Veteran officers are relying on experience. They have spent far more time doing the job recently than they have spent training on doing the job. They typically spend more time in a month doing the job than they will spend in training all year. They are relying on what worked for them in the past, not on the most current tactics and training. The things we do every day become habits, and we will perform them that way day after day until something happens to change that pattern.
Other factors come into play, such as veteran officers getting over confident, whereas the rookie officer is unlikely to have that problem. This is a possibility, but not likely the cause in most of these cases. Another factor is that some offenders have admitted they targeted a specific officer because he or she looked like an easy mark, while other less appealing “targets” they chose to let go on their way without attacking. Again certainly a possibility, but I do not believe it is a prevailing statistic. Perhaps the rookie officers are just that much more alert, but most likely not. To me, the contrast between experience, duty hours, and training hours is the single biggest difference that is too large to be ignored.
Tactics change over time; this is a simple fact of life in this line of work. What worked last year, or even last week, may not be the best tactic today. If we do not spend enough training time getting updated and practicing to stay sharp, we won’t be sharp. Everything we need in a use of force incident is a perishable skill. Everything.
If training keeps officers alive, and experience gets them hurt and killed, we need to change the way we conduct business. It is time to take training seriously. A difficult task in shrinking departments with shrinking budgets, I know, but can the known facts be explained any other way?
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Jeff Pierce is LET’s Tactical Contributor. He has extensive training and experience in law enforcement, corrections, military, and emergency response operations including tactical operations, counter terrorism, WMD and critical incident response. Jeff has served as a federal tactical officer including entry team, precision marksman team, team leader, team commander, range master and lead instructor. Jeff founded Double Diamond Tactical to further help responders and law abiding citizens receive safe and effective training. D2Tac has trained all levels of civilian, military, and law enforcement personnel since 2005. Come visit us at www.D2Tac.com.