By Terry Baxter, Law Enforcement and Safety Specialist

Policing in America is challenging, law makers are calling for increased police training. Public outcry is wanting law enforcement to be more transparent and demanding immediate answers when law enforcement encounters turn fatal.

I have mentioned numerous times how difficult this job is, and I commend those who have made it a career or who are looking too, as many have already found out through experience, this job isn’t for everyone. When you accept the responsibility of wearing a badge, you agree to serve and protect, but sometimes this comes with a significant cost.

So far in 2021, 119 law enforcement officers have lost their lives in the line of duty. Lowering officer’s death Below 100 will not be realized this year.

The majority of 119 law enforcement lives lost was attributed to COVID. Texas has lost the most law enforcement officers thus far at (17), and January has seen the most deaths at (43). Fatality statistics are higher in many categories than they were last year at this same time:

  • Total fatalities a 13% increase;
  • Gun related deaths a 6% increase;
  • Auto related deaths a 11% increase;
  • Other line of duty deaths a 16% increase.

In 2020, 360 officers lost their lives and COVID was the top considering factor as well. In the last five years, 1,167 officers have died nationwide, over the past ten years 1,966 law enforcement lives have been lost.

My home state, Iowa has seen three officer deaths in 2021; Iowa State Patrol Sgt. James Smith was killed in April due to gunfire; Correctional Officer Robert McFarland was killed in March after he was assaulted by an inmate and Conservation Officer Steven Reighard died in January from COVID.

Nebraska has lost 116 law enforcement officers over the years, 71 due to gunfire. So far, the most Nebraska deaths have occurred during the month of February (15). The last Nebraska officer killed in the line duty was Lincoln Police Officer Mario Herrera, killed by gunfire on 09/07/2020.

Peace Officer Memorial Day and Police Week is an observance nationwide that pays tribute to local, state, and federal peace officers who have died, or who have been disabled in the line of duty. May 15th of each  year has been designated as Peace Officer Memorial Day. On October 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed the bill into law honoring peace officers. Amended in 1994, President Bill Clinton directed that the flag of the United States be flown at half-staff on May 15th.

Law enforcement officers face a daily variety of dangerous and stressful situations in the line of duty, but the over-all goal is to go home safe. The threat of on-the-job injury or line of duty death is real in this profession, but by enhancing law enforcement training and enhancing the officer’s mental well-being, we can greatly diminish line of duty deaths and injuries.

I would sincerely hope for the daily safety of all our law enforcement, agencies should try to focus on and eliminate preventable line of duty deaths. Instill safety each day at your agency and remember the Below 100 Five Tenets:

  1. Wear Your Belt.
  2. Wear your Vest.
  3. Watch your Speed.
  4. Win-What’s Important Now?
  5. Remember: Complacency Kills.

I am closing on the words President Barack Obama made at the national Police Officer Memorial Service on May 15, 2013:

The fallen officers we honor today put themselves on the front lines of that fight, to preserve that quality of community, and to protect the roots of our greatness. They exemplified the very idea of citizenship – that with our God-given rights come responsibilities and obligations to ourselves and to others. They embodied that idea. That is the way they died. That is how we must remember them. And that is how we must live. We can never repay our debt to these officers and their families, but we must do what we can, with all that we have, to live our lives in a way that pays tribute to their memory. That begins, but does not end, by gathering here – with heavy hearts, to carve their names in stone, so that all will know them, and that their legacy will endure. We are grateful to them and we are grateful to you.

As Sgt. Phil Esterhaus (Actor Michael Conrad) closed each roll call in Hill Street Blues: “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”