By George Fachner
Each year the FBI releases an annual report that speaks directly to the grim fact that law enforcement officers do not only address violence, but also often experience it, and the physical and psychological tolls it brings. The physical and violent reality of law enforcement compounds other routine occupational stressors like shift work, low morale, and high-pressure and emotionally taxing encounters. Personal stressors also take an effect such as interpersonal relationships, significant life events, and general physiological and mental health.
This past October, the FBI released its 2016 edition of the Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) report, the most comprehensive data collection of its kind. More officers were reported killed, assaulted, and injured in the line of duty than in the previous year. Among the agencies reporting to LEOKA, there was roughly one assault for every 10 officers, for a total of 57,180 assaults. Most (78 percent) of these assaults involve “personal weapons,” but often (31 percent of the time) result in injuries nonetheless. In relative terms, firearms are used less frequently than personal weapons; however, the 2,377 firearm assaults against officers reported in 2016 is substantial. This data shows that, every day, at least six officers are threatened with a firearm while protecting and serving the public. Nearly 300 officers sustained injuries as a result of these encounters, and most (94 percent) of the 66 felonious deaths of police were from handguns, rifles, and shotguns.
The issue is persistent and reflects the nature of law enforcement at the street level. Over the past decade, LEOKA has documented around 50,000 total assaults—2,000 involving firearms—each year. In response, the field has documented and promoted a myriad of training, policies, and procedures to address officer safety and wellness in volumes of research papers, best practice articles, and professional reports. The COPS Office has worked with the field to highlight these promising solutions, such as the following:
- Preplanning the provision of psychological services is essential, as it can help ensure that the agency has thought through various scenarios, including when an officer is killed, and that officers are familiar with the availability of services in the wake of a critical or traumatic incident.
- Law enforcement executives and experts often cite the need for better, actionable intelligence on threats against the public and police to improve officer safety.
- Research on ambush assaults against police has found that distance, receiving assistance from another officer, wearing body armor, and returning fire were all associated with greater odds of survival.
- Post-trauma treatment programs hold promise for officers that have been exposed to critical incidents, deaths, and other stressors. As one example, the Franciscan Center Post-Trauma Education and Retreat Program served Tampa Police Department officers, who later reported positively on its impact on their healing process.