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Officer Safety and Below 100

Below100 got its start during the International 2010 Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) conference. One of the trainers at the conference said, “If we could just get officers to slow down, wear their seat belts, and clear intersections, we could really drive down line-of-duty deaths in this country.” A rather intense discussion followed as to what could actually be done regarding the “low-hanging fruit” of officer safety. Specifically, the areas under an officer’s control and not those attributable to a determined bad guy.

Over the course of the next month, I read through thousands of Line Of Duty Death (LODD) summaries on the Officer Down Memorial Page website. A clear picture began to emerge for the causes that were disproportionately responsible for predictable, and therefore preventable, LODD losses. Those areas were no seatbelt use, not wearing body armor, excessive speed, lack of situational awareness, and complacency.

The evidence and magnitude of preventable losses were so compelling that I assumed there must be an existing effort underway to address these issues. Although there were initiatives or training courses that addressed parts of the problem, there wasn’t a comprehensive approach to tackle the thorny issue of officer culpability. In other words, no one had said, “Look what we’re doing to ourselves. We need to change this.” Apparently, the human tendency to blame others, i.e., the bad guys, for our shortcomings had caused a degree of deadly ignorance.

In October 2010, Below 100 was rolled out. The name was intended as a challenge and would mean a significant drop in the terrible “norm” of annual LODDs. The initiative targeted areas that were solidly within an officer’s control and that research had shown were disproportionately responsible for a high number of LODDs.

A short phrase was developed for each: 1) Wear your seatbelt. 2) Wear your vest. 3) Watch your speed. 4) WIN: What’s Important Now? 5) Remember: Complacency kills! These five tenets became the cornerstone of Below 100.

In January 2011, Chief Scot Haug, Post Falls (Idaho) PD, and I presented the first-ever Below 100 training at the Shooting Hunting & Outdoor Trade (SHOT) show. The feedback was solidly positive. In fact, the only “critique” was that we should have done something a long time ago. Simultaneously, Gordon Graham, a renowned police risk management expert, began promoting Below 100 as he spoke to thousands of police decision makers around the country. Graham is best known for his, “If it is predictable, it is preventable” mantra.

The first Below 100 train-the-trainer course was at the 2011 ILEETA conference. Attendees were provided the basic course materials and encouraged to take the message to the masses. Over the next several months, a small group of very committed volunteer trainers crisscrossed the country delivering Below 100, usually with a trainer session as part of the presentation. This approach of presenting the material and empowering other trainers led to a high level of organic growth and momentum began to build. 


Why Is It Called Below 100?

Sometimes, Below 100 trainers get this question: “Why isn’t the goal Zero?” The sobering answer is that this isn’t realistic. Those who wear a badge stand in the gap between good and evil, a responsibility that can be both dangerous and deadly. If a person is committed to killing a police officer and is willing to die trying, there is a likelihood of success.

Goals should be challenging but also grounded in reality. When a goal is obviously unobtainable, such as “zero death, zero injury,” it serves no purpose and is often dismissed outright. No LODD should ever be considered acceptable, but the truth of law enforcement is that there will be times when lives are lost.

During the 20 years preceding Below 100, nearly 3,400 officers lost their lives. The level of annual loss, on average, was more than 165 officers, even when you exclude 2001’s spike due to 9/11 losses. Only by going back to 1943 can you find an annual LODD toll less than 100. It’s a level that is extremely challenging yet achievable.

This is important:

Below 100 is not about statistics. It’s about each and every officer, trainer and supervisor taking individual and collective responsibility for the decisions and actions that contribute to safety.

Thousands of law enforcement officers believe in Below 100 and they are actively working to make that goal a reality. As a result, lives are being saved and career-ending injuries are being prevented.


Is Below 100 Working?

Below 100 hit full stride going into 2012. A committed group of volunteer trainers had crisscrossed the country while rolling out a website and Facebook page. When 2012 ended, line-of-duty deaths (LODDs) totaled 133, the lowest level seen in more than 50 years. Below 100 training continued into 2013 with a sense of empowerment and the requests for the training kept coming. When 2013 closed out, the LODD total was 119 (including 11 deaths from 9/11 related illnesses). You have to go all the way back to 1959 to find a lower LODD number.

Last year saw the LODD number hit 134 (including seven 9/11 related deaths), a slight increase but still a historical low. Perhaps most compelling is the three-year period of 2012 through 2014 that parallels Below 100’s major push. Three years is

much more instructive than looking at a single year and this period is lower than any three-year period going back to the 1950s!

The gains are not solely attributable to Below 100, but there’s no doubt the program is making a difference and helping move police culture in the right direction.

One great example of Below 100 effectiveness is the Yolo County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Office. YCSO leaders knew they had a speed problem and had experienced an average of one at-fault crash per month over a period of 10 years. Several deputies had been seriously injured and two were forced into early retirement. The crashes had cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and untold suffering. After engaging with Below 100, Yolo SO has now gone more than 30 months with zero at-fault crashes. The agency recently received the National Law Enforcement Officers’ Memorial Fund 2015 Traffic Safety Award for its outstanding accomplishment. 

If you are thinking the Below 100 tenets are just common sense, you are absolutely right. However, these five tenets came together as the result of reviewing several thousand LODD summaries. Year in and year out we lose officers in absolutely preventable situations, making a horribly tragic situation all the more painful. For those who experience the loss of a loved one, even one LODD is too many. There is nothing that can ease that pain, but Below 100 is working very hard to ensure fewer families have to make that life-changing trip to Police Week.


Seatbelts, Speed and Armor Problem

Based on extensive research by the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration, work done by California Peace Officers Standards and Training, documentation by FBI LEOKA studies, and countless queries conducted by Below 100 trainers, we know that seatbelt use by officers is approximately 50 percent. Since 1980, well over 150 officers have been ejected from their vehicles and paid with their lives. Seatbelts work but only when they are used.

Speed is very often the primary collision factor in police crashes and half of fatal crashes are single vehicle, meaning the officer was primarily responsible. There are times high speed is necessary, but it must always be situationally appropriate.

When it comes to armor, the trends are encouraging with more officers routinely wearing armor, but there is much room for improvement. The recently released FBI LEOKA preliminary report summarizing 2014 noted that only 35 of the 46 officers killed by firearms were known to be wearing body armor. With more than 3,000 documented saves, we know that body armor works—but only when it’s worn.


WIN: What’s Important Now?

The concept of WIN is one of the most powerful and comprehensive concepts in officer safety. Essentially, WIN is a combination of situational awareness and conscious decision-making that ensures an officer is continually reassessing the environment and placing priority on factors most relevant to safety. It’s important to understand that WIN is fluid and ever-changing. Look at the dynamics of a traffic stop and you can readily understand the concept.

During the course of one stop, an officer will consider: 1) Does the violation merit a stop? 2) Visible risk factors associated with the vehicle and occupants. 3) When and where to initiate the stop. 4) Reaction of the driver and occupants. 5) Hazards of other traffic. 6) The approach. 7) Maintaining focus (rather than taking a phone call or texting). And so on. The point is to ensure decisions are based on a continual assessment of “What’s Important Now?”


Is Below 100 Evolving and Real World?

In late 2012, Below 100 trainers identified tire deflation devices as being responsible for more than two dozen LODDs and hundreds of crippling and career-ending injuries. Program content was modified to address this issue. Early in 2014, Below 100 trainers recognized that heart attacks were the third leading cause of LODDs (behind vehicle-related and gunfire deaths).

As a result, training now includes emphasis on physical fitness under the WIN and Complacency segments. As the value of self-treatment and buddy-treatment became apparent, Below 100 training incorporated discussion of tourniquet use. Emphasis was placed on training and having the tourniquet readily available and accessible by either hand.

In November of 2014, Below 100 trainers formed a non-profit, 501(c)(3) corporation. A board of directors, composed of the most experienced and veteran trainers, oversees the operation and sets priorities for delivering the training. The organization is all volunteer and no one receives compensation for their efforts.

Below 100 trainers believe the best way to honor the fallen is by training the living. Those who have made the ultimate sacrifice would want nothing less.


Dale Stockton is a 32-year-veteran of law enforcement, having worked in all areas of police operations and investigations and retiring as a police captain from Carlsbad, California. He is a graduate of the 201st FBI National Academy and holds a Master’s degree in Criminology from the University of California, Irvine. He is the founder of Below 100 and currently serves on the board of directors and as a core trainer for the program.

Published in Law and Order, Aug 2015

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