Search for a fallen Law Enforcement Hero.
Good morning and let me state right up front that there is no greater honor than to be addressing this group of law enforcement educators and trainers. Our two organizations are truly aligned in our missions to honor the fallen and to promote law enforcement safety. I am truly honored by the opportunity to be here today. Ed Nowicki and ILEETA have been longtime friends and supporters of the Memorial Fund, and it is my privilege to help kick off this year's Training Conference and Expo.
Your passion for training and commitment to officer safety is second to none. My friend Georg Olsen, with U.S. Armor Corporation, and I were commenting that this is the only conference we know of where participants actually attend training sessions day and night! The importance of what you do cannot be overstated. Never before in our nation's history have we placed greater demands and higher expectations on our law enforcement professionals! Not only is law enforcement responsible for conventional crime fighting and public safety responsibilities, but in this post-9/11 era, law enforcement is also waging a war on terror.
These unusually challenging times call for the best possible training and preparation. On behalf of the citizens of our nation, I want to offer a heartfelt "thank you" to each and every one of you for all you are doing to ensure that our officers not only perform their duties to the best of their abilities, but also that our officers return home safely to their families at the end of their shift. Your attendance here this week is just further evidence of the commitment you have made to better yourselves, to better your profession and, ultimately, to better the communities in which we live.
Over the last 15 years or so, there has been a lot written and said about the dramatic reductions in crime that our nation has experienced — we are told that violent crime in America has been reduced by more than 30 percent since 1993. That is a staggering achievement, and various theories have been offered, including demographics, the economy, and tougher criminal justice.
But, too little of the credit has been given where it belongs — namely, more and better prepared officers patrolling our communities than ever before! Just consider, for example, that in 1993 there were roughly 550,000 sworn law enforcement officers serving our nation. Today, that figure is approaching 900,000!
And, not only are officers doing their jobs more effectively, they are doing their jobs more safely. Thirty years ago, the odds of being killed in the line of duty if you were a law officer was about one in 2,000. Today, those odds have substantially improved to about one officer fatality for every 5,500 serving.
During the 1970s — the deadliest decade in law enforcement history — our nation lost an average of 227 officers each year in the line of duty. In the 1980s, that number dropped to 189 officer fatalities a year, and by the 1990s it was down to 160 per year.
Since the year 2000, the average number of officer fatalities has risen slightly — to 170 a year. But that average is heavily influenced by the year 2001, when there were 240 officer fatalities — including 72 of them on 9/11, the deadliest day in law enforcement history. If we exclude those tragic and heroic deaths from the statistical count, the average number of officer deaths this decade has remained steady from the 1990s.
So, the overall trend in officer fatalities has been dramatic and remarkable — a 25 percent reduction in line-of-duty deaths over the past 30 years, a figure that is nothing short of astounding when you realize that the number of officers in harms way during that same period has more than doubled. And once again, it is you, our law enforcement educators and trainers, who deserve so much of the credit.
You have been especially successful in helping to bring down the number of officers killed by gunfire. During the 1970s, an average of 127 officers each year were shot and killed in the line of duty. Since the year 2000, that number has been 59 a year — an amazing 54 percent reduction in firearms-related deaths over the last three decades.
Many factors are undoubtedly behind this trend, but certainly none are more important than the improved training our officers now receive. Perhaps the best lesson of all that you have taught our officers is to wear their body armor. We know that bullet-resistant vests have saved more than 3,000 lives over the past 20 years. Yet, in 1998 — just 10 years ago — fewer than 50 percent of the officers who died in the line of duty were wearing body armor. Last year, 73 percent of the officers who died were wearing their bullet-resistant vest. Unfortunately, those vests did not save the officer's life, but this data is the clearest evidence we have of the increasing use of body armor by officers across this nation.
With the assistance of advanced training and educational technologies, you have also taught our officers how to diffuse potentially volatile situations without having to resort to force. When force is necessary, you have taught our officers how to use less-lethal weapons. And, in those rare instances when lethal force is the only acceptable option, you have taught our officers how to apply such force with the least amount of risk to the officers and any innocent citizens involved.
I was extremely pleased to note that this conference once again has a whole track of training devoted to officer safety and the use of force. You obviously understand the crucial relationship between these two issues. And, contrary to the perception of law enforcement commonly portrayed by the media and pop culture, law enforcement today seldom resorts to the use of force to keep the peace. A study several years ago found that the average New York City police officer would have to serve 694 years before ever shooting and killing a criminal suspect. More recently, a Department of Justice study found that of the more than 40 million contacts each year with the public, our officers either use or threaten the use of force less than two percent of the time. That is truly remarkable and clearly results from a standard of training excellence that is second to none!
But even as we reflect on and properly applaud the improvements in officer safety, ILEETA, more than any other group, recognizes and understands that there are serious challenges ahead.
As we all know, 2007 was a difficult and deadly year for American law enforcement. Later this month, the names of 181 officers who made the supreme sacrifice in 2007 will be inscribed onto the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. That represents a 20 percent increase over the 151 officer fatalities in 2006.
Especially troubling was the spike in firearms-related fatalities. In an abrupt reversal of the favorable downward trend over the past three decades, 70 officers were killed by gunfire last year, representing a 26 percent increase over the 52 officers who were shot and killed in 2006. During 2007, our officers confronted more brazen, cold-blooded criminals who were heavily armed. Consider, for example, that six times last year, two or more officers were gunned down in the same incident. A look at South Florida, which was particularly hard hit last year with violence directed against law officers, found that assault weapons are increasingly becoming the weapon of choice by criminals. For example, the Miami Police Department reported that only four percent of their homicides were committed with assault weapons in 2004. Last year, 20 percent of all Miami homicides were committed with assault weapons. One of those homicide victims was Detective Jose Somohano of the Miami-Dade Police Department, who was shot and killed last September during a traffic stop.
The good news, as we look at our latest statistics, is that 2007 may have been a one-year aberration, and not the beginning of a troubling trend. So far this year, firearms-related fatalities among officers are down by nearly 50 percent, with only 11 officers shot and killed this year, compared to 21 at the same time last year.
While firearms have historically been the greatest threat to officer safety, the more disturbing concern of late has been traffic-related fatalities. Just consider that as 54 percent fewer officers were being killed with firearms over the past three decades, the number of officers killed in traffic-related incidents was rising 30 percent during that same period. From an annual average of 57 traffic-related line-of-duty deaths during the 1970s, that number has grown to 74 a year during the current decade. These numbers are even more troubling when considering that traffic fatalities among all citizens nationwide has actually declined by 20 percent between 1970 and 2000.
Last year alone, 83 officers nationwide died in traffic-related incidents — the highest number ever in U.S. history. And, 2007 was the 10th year in a row in which more officers died in traffic-related incidents than from gunfire or any other single cause of death.
Furthermore, there appears to be no single cause or factor that can explain the increase. Since the 1970s, the number of officers killed each year in automobile crashes has risen 33 percent. The number killed in motorcycle accidents has skyrocketed 50 percent. And the number struck and killed by a vehicle while the officer was outside his or her police vehicle has increased by nearly 10 percent.
There is an inescapable conclusion when looking at the traffic-related fatalities — many of these deaths were probably preventable. More and better driver training might have saved some of these lives. A study in the late 1990s found that only 60 percent of law enforcement agencies nationwide were providing high-speed driver training for their officers — 40 percent were providing none at all. This situation has certainly improved since then, but there still seems to be quite an imbalance between the amount of firearms training an officer receives compared to the amount of driver training we provide our officers. One law enforcement trainer I spoke to estimated that students at the academies get twice as much firearms training as driver training. This is hard to understand given that the vast majority of officers-some say as many as 90 percent — will never fire their weapon in the line of duty. Yet, virtually every officer will find themselves behind the wheel of a patrol vehicle chasing a fleeing felon or responding to an emergency call.
Studies have shown that cell phone use causes traffic accidents. Yet, not only do our law enforcement officers have cell phones; they have in-car cameras, radar, radios, and laptop computers to name just some of the distractions our officers must contend with.
Fourteen of the officers who died last year were struck and killed while outside of their patrol vehicles. Slow down and "move over" laws have been passed by 43 states to help prevent these tragedies, but greater caution in these very dangerous situations is still needed.
Drunken drivers are also making it increasingly dangerous for officers on the roadway. Last year, eight officers nationwide were killed as a result of drunken drivers. Over the last three decades, officer deaths related to drunken drivers have almost doubled to 66 during the last 10 years.
And, despite more restrictive pursuit policies and the use of alternative measures such as spike strips, 59 officers were killed during vehicle pursuits over the past 10 years. That number is significantly higher than the 48 officers who died during vehicle pursuits in the previous 10-year period, and nearly triple the number who lost their lives three decades ago.
One final note about law enforcement safety. As training has increased and intensified over the years in an effort to promote officer safety, many more training-related fatalities have occurred. Our records indicate that throughout history, some 120 officers have died in the line of duty during training. Eighteen of those fatalities occurred in the last three years alone. Of the 120 training fatalities, 49 of those officers suffered heart attacks or other illnesses during training; 26 were accidentally shot; 10 died in aircraft accidents; nine were killed in motorcycle crashes; eight fell to their deaths; six drowned and 12 died of other causes.
Unfortunately, some of the uncertainty and dangers associated with law enforcement work carries over to training. You know this far better than I, but if you think any of our case histories or data on training-related fatalities, or any other category of death could help you make it safer for our officers, please do not hesitate to contact the Memorial Fund. We help promote law enforcement safety by sharing information, but ultimately it is you, the trainers, who we are relying on to make some sense of this information and prepare our officers accordingly.
Before I close, I want to remind you that National Police Week is May 11-17 this year. As has become tradition, several days of activities and major events are being planned for Washington, DC during that time, including our 20th Annual Candlelight Vigil on May 13th, when we will be dedicating 358 newly inscribed names on the National Memorial. 181 of those officers died last year, and the other 177 officers died in prior years but had been lost to history. I invite all of you to come to Washington, DC, and share in these important tributes to our fallen law enforcement heroes. Please go to our website at www.LawMemorial.org for more information.
I also want to update you on our progress in creating the first-ever National Law Enforcement Museum. We remain on target for opening in Washington, DC, in 2011. Congress authorized this Museum in 2000. Former Presidents Bush and Clinton are heading up the effort as Co-Chairs of our National Honorary Campaign Committee. Our architecture and exhibition design is nearly 100 percent complete. Our collection now includes more than 6,000 historical and contemporary artifacts. And, perhaps most importantly, our $80 million capital campaign &mdsh; called "A Matter of Honor" — is well underway.
To date, we have raised more than $34 million toward that goal from a wide range of individuals, corporations and, especially, law enforcement organizations, which I am proud to report have contributed more than $10 million!
I want to publicly thank Ed Nowicki, Tom Engelman — one of our law enforcement ambassadors — and ILEETA for your continued support of this Campaign. All totaled, ILEETA has contributed more than $21,500 in cash and pledges, with more money to be raised at this conference. Your support will help ensure that millions of Museum visitors will learn to better appreciate and understand the vital contributions that law enforcement has made and continues to make to our nation each and every day. You will be interested to know that the work of law enforcement educators and trainers will be highlighted in a special area of the Museum called "The Academy," which will be filled with hands-on interactive experiences for the visitor, including judgmental and driver training simulators. And, the Museum facility will include a research center devoted to law enforcement safety and history.
We just recently launched a new website for the Museum — www.LawEnforcementMuseum.org. I encourage all of you to visit the site, take the virtual tour of the Museum, explore our plans, and learn how you can support this long-overdue and richly deserved tribute to the profession that you have dedicated your life's work. Hopefully, you have also received one of our Museum brochures and related information.
John Dewey, the American philosopher and educational reformer, once wrote that "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself." That same sentiment can be applied to law enforcement as well.
Education and training are not preparation for law enforcement work; education and training are law enforcement work. To be effective, to be successful, and to be safe — our law enforcement officers need to view learning as an ongoing, life-long process.
I know that all of you embrace this important philosophy. And, I know that because of your dedication and commitment, our communities are safer … and our officers are safer, as well.
Thank you and may God bless you for all you have done and continue to do to help keep America safe, and for all you do to keep the walls of the National Law enforcement Officers Memorial bare!