The Orange County Sheriff’s department video showing a suicidal man shooting at deputies reinforces a point we should all keep in mind: Police work can be a very dangerous business.
Police officers train for worst case scenarios. From the time you are in the police academy until you are on the streets on your own, staying alive is constantly reinforced. You are trained to be vigilant. You must never allow yourself to become complacent – because you never know.
The OCSD video shows deputies responding to a familiar call: A subject threatening suicide. Sadly, those calls come with some frequency – and many times, those subjects are armed.
The officers, as they were well trained, parked a distance from the home. They set themselves up tactically to wait for an opportunity to contact the subject.
In a matter of seconds, it becomes a life-or-death situation. You don’t expect someone to open fire with an automatic weapon.
You can just imagine the judgement and decision-making that has to take place almost instantaneously.
Thanks to good training and probably a certain amount of luck nobody, including the suspect, was injured in the incident. But it illustrates in vivid detail the dangers officers face every day.
Sadly, sometimes these kinds of calls end in tragedy.
According to the Officer Down Memorial page 35 law enforcement officers have died in the United States in 2016; 17 of them have been killed by gunfire.
The group Law Enforcement Supporters for Media Accountability (LESMA) tracks the number of incidents where police officers have been shot.
As of April 26, 2016, 97 law enforcement officers have been shot in the United States. This is verified shootings where law enforcement officers have suffered injury related to being struck by gunfire.
In some of these cases, officers have been critically injured and their lives have been forever changed.
As far as I know, this is the only organization attempting to track the number of incidents where police officers are shot at. The suggest the numbers are likely higher.
Just based upon LESMA’s data you can figure there are five times as many police officers shot and injured as there are killed by gunfire.
And, like in the incident involving the Orange County deputies, there are many more shootings where police officers have been shot at and not injured. There is currently no way to track them all.
A scan of news sources shows police officers being “shot at” happens almost daily across the country. In many cases they are just a blip in mainstream media coverage.
There is also no way to track the number of armed encounters police officers have with suspects everyday where no shots are fired and no one is injured.
Shootings alone don’t come close to tracking all the dangers police officers face. There is always risk of being stabbed, assaulted, run over, crashing and even being poisoned by toxic substances.
Given what police officers face every day across the country, it makes me cringe when I hear critics say police officers are too paranoid and officer safety conscious.
Police officers aren’t paranoid. They are vigilant because as this shooting shows the potential risks are very real.
And isn’t it everyone’s goal to go home at the end of the day?
Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.