By Terry Baxter, Law Enforcement and Safety Specialist

Earlier this year I wrote about line of duty deaths, and due to the recent tragic event that occurred this past month involving the death of Lincoln Police Investigator Luis “Mario” Herrera I thought while it was still fresh on our minds to revisit this topic.

Nebraska, as well as a law enforcement nation mourned the death of Lincoln Police Investigator Luis “Mario” Herrera who was shot on August 26 while members of the Metro Area Fugitive Task Force were serving a warrant on a house in Lincoln. Investigator Herrera passed away on September 7, 2020 from injuries he sustained after being shot. Two teenagers have been charged in connection with the murder of Investigator Herrera. Chris Cosgriff, Officer Down Memorial Page Founder quotes: “When a police officer is killed, it’s not an agency that loses an officer, it’s an entire nation”.

So far in 2020, there have been 205 line of duty deaths, last year at this same time 147 officers had been killed in the line of duty. Everyone knows when they accept the responsibility of wearing a badge there are dangers that comes along with this chosen profession. Law enforcement officers face a variety of challenges and hazardous situations each day, but for most, the thought of no tomorrow never crosses their minds until events such as what happened in Lincoln hits a little closer to home.

By no means am I judging the actions of Investigator Herrera on that fateful day, I wasn’t there, but when any law enforcement officer is injured or killed, one has to think that any law enforcement officer would reflect on the dangers of this job. But why do we wait and make a tragic event such as this before we think of the consequences? It’s called complacency, it is habit forming, it effects every law enforcement officer over time causing us to become lax, contributing to critical errors of judgments which increases the probability of injury. Though I am not speculating this is what contributed to Investigator Herrera’s death, it is however a contributing factor in many officer related injuries and fatalities.

Personnel who repeatedly are exposed to dangerous or violent situations become less concerned and cautious about their own personal safety, because nothing every went wrong and all of a sudden the mentality developed is nothing bad is ever going to happen, and we get the feeling we are invincible.

So how do we avoid complacency once we have achieved our dream job? First thing is recharge your batteries daily, come to work with a goal of getting better at what you do, no matter how seasoned in this profession you are, strive for excellence. Remember there is no such thing as a routine call for service, each time we respond there is always the potential something could go wrong, always focus on the process at hand.

Below 100 was formed in 2010 to permanently eliminate preventable line of duty deaths and injuries through innovative training and awareness. The Mission: reduce line of duty deaths to fewer than 100 per year, something that has not been accomplished since 1943. The Vision: Eliminate preventable line of duty deaths and serious injuries through compelling common-sense training designed to focus on areas under an officer’s control.

Below 100 five tenants, when it comes to officer safety:

  • Always wear your seatbelt
  • Always wear your vest
  • Always watch your speed
  • WIN-“What’s Important Now”
  • Remember: Complacency Kills

Commitment to safety begins with each officer taking responsibility for their working habits, but administrators should instill the importance of safety, constant awareness and ensure officers are always ready for the uncertainty. I had written a NIRMA Shorts article in January titled, Line of Duty Deaths, hoping that we saw a decrease in the number of law enforcement deaths, as well as to hopefully set a new benchmark for a reduction in the line of duty deaths, hopefully not to exceed 100, but based on the current 2020 law enforcement death stats, this goal is unattainable this year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t strive to reaffirm our commitment to making it happen beginning with 2021 as well as making sure no more deaths occur the rest of this year.

Those of you who remember the TV show Hill Street Blues (1981-1987), roll call always ending with Sgt. Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad) telling his officers, “Hey, Let’s Be Careful Out There.”

Safety starts with you, stay safe everyone!