Without question, police officers perform one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. While many of the dangers they face cannot possibly be completely removed, especially in a society that values democratic freedoms, the right to privacy, and defense of the Constitution, there are some things which can be addressed that should substantially reduce some of the dangers. As for the “dangers” involved, it has been estimated that 887 fatalities occurred between 1992 and 1997; a bigger range, between 1993 and 2002, reveals that 1317 officers were killed-of those, 636 were feloniously killed and 681 died “accidentally.” By the same token, in 2002 a total of 58,000 officers were assaulted. While the numbers have actually gotten better since that time, police officers continue to be assaulted and killed on the job. In an effort to possibly reduce the numbers, in both accidental and felonious fatalities, as well as in assault statistics, the following problems need to be aggressively addressed:
1. Tinted glass on vehicles. Already many communities and states have passed laws and city ordinances meant to address this serious problem. While it may provide significant comfort and convenience to the general public, tinted glass on vehicles also presents a great danger to police officers, who, in general, depend on their being able to see inside vehicles every time they stop a vehicle for some violation or because of suspicion of something. Some people think that just reducing the level of tinting is enough but that may not necessarily completely remove dangers. Especially at night, it is difficult to see inside a vehicle with tinted glass-it is virtually impossible for vehicles with a heavy tinting. If police officers cannot see inside a vehicle, chances of their being shot or overtaken by a motorist or their passengers are greatly increased.
2. Weak and spineless local, state and federal legislators. Many times legislators do pass laws and ordinances which greatly help to keep police officers and other law enforcement officers safe, but they also sometimes drag their feet. Strong, aggressive laws that address specific problems are one of the best means by which to reduce the dangers faced by law enforcement personnel. Because of uncaring, negligent or spineless politicians, however, laws that can help ameliorate conditions for police officers often take much longer than they should to pass, assuming that they are passed at all.
3. Lack of proper training. For a long time, for example, it was common practice (and continues to be so today, albeit training has improved somewhat) for officers to learn what they needed to learn “on the job,” especially in reference to traffic stops. Also, no two municipalities or states have exactly the same written procedures, although most share basically the same guidelines and rules. What happens often, though, is that many officers get training that is not as good as it is in other better-equipped communities. In all communities, more money and better technology needs to be used in better training police officers.
4. Not being provided with bullet-proof vests and combat helmets. Although police officers may opt to not wear such except at certain times, all officers should be provided with these two basic pieces of equipment, in case of a major confrontation. Some communities, they say, simply cannot afford to provide these, thereby letting officers buy their own, if they so choose and can afford it. It is not always possible or feasible to wait for a SWAT team, which is generally better equipped than regular police officers. If police officers wore these two pieces of equipment when necessary, it would significantly protect their safety. Some people may consider issuing combat helmets going overboard a bit, but they could potentially save some lives during a shoot-out.
5. Being given inferior weapons with which to do their jobs. Although officers can and do now receive access to automatic weapons, they are still for the most part ill-equipped, in comparison to, say, gang members, professional criminals, and potential terrorists. For the record, all police officers should be equipped with an assault rifle, such as an M-16. When attacked with automatic machine guns and assault weapons (which is what drug dealers and gang members carry and are likely to use), police officers cannot suitably defend themselves. Yes, they usually have a shot gun in cruisers, but an automatic handgun and a shot gun are no match for an Uzi, an AK-47, or any of the hundreds of other possibilities regularly found in the hands of home-grown psychos and gangbangers.
6. Criminals on the run or who have made up their minds not to be taken without a fight. These “characters” might be drunk drivers, drug users and dealers, convicted felons on the run, potential terrorists (home-grown or from abroad), repeat offenders, or people with mental health issues. Police officers can be helped in regards to this problem by being given better-updated, computer-accessed information about potentially dangerous people. Also, laws can be passed that will inflict more serious repercussions (than the ones already on the books) to anyone in these situations who makes the mistake of hurting a peace officer.
7. Cities and states that use police officers as revenue-enhancement collection agents. It is a shameful fact that many communities are giving police officers quotas (i.e., minimum number of citations and tickets they have to write each day) that they have to meet in order to keep their jobs. Every time an officer makes a stop for a traffic violation, he or she is putting his or her life on the line. If a motorist breaks a traffic law, a police officer is doing his or her duty by giving a citation for that infraction. It is also a crime, though, if that officer gives that same citation because he or she was forced by a community that now heavily depends on the money raised through traffic violation fines. Simply put, this creates a serious conflict of interest. This situation helps to increase the number of tickets given, reduces incentives for leniency (which is sometimes necessary), and increases friction between motorists and police officers. One popular tactic, for example, includes reducing speed limits to ridiculously low levels just so more tickets can be handed out; another heinous tactic is to increase ticket amounts to usurious levels. In some communities, for example, tickets now come close to $1000, just for breaking speed limits or breaking other traffic laws. If this were being done in order to increase safety for motorists, this might be more acceptable-but the truth is that this is being done in order to increase revenue from traffic violations (to make up for revenue that has been lost from other sources), which is particularly heinous at a time when people are losing their jobs or barely hanging on financially. This is nothing more than a tax-collection impetus, something that is even more reprehensible when death or injury occurs as a result of police officers being used, unofficially, as tax-collection agents.
8. High-speed road chases. Whenever possible, these chases need to be outlawed, especially in residential neighbourhoods. Short of that, other alternatives need to be found and implemented which may either reduce the numbers of or completely remove the need for car chases. One possibility is to make sure that all communities have at least one helicopter for use for such needs. A helicopter could more easily conduct these types of chases, thus giving cars on the ground (and the innocent victims that are often harmed) a break on any such needs. Or maybe such chases can be limited to instances of law enforcement knowing for sure that the motorists in question (the people behind the wheel on the run) present a serious danger to others. Chasing a teenager, for example, found with two joints in his car, is an excellent example of the abuse of this practice. Especially if the officer knows where the person can be found later on, such people need to be let go, instead of engaging in ridiculous car chases which unnecessarily endanger peoples’ lives, including peace officers’.
9. Makeshift temporary car license plates-i.e., “dealer plates.” Some of these temporary plates can easily be abused, often consisting of nothing more than a piece of cardboard or plastic with a date boldly placed on it using a marker. The real problem with these, though, rests with the fact that there is no way for police officers to check on the status of the vehicle or the people in it when they stop a vehicle for a traffic violation. A much better idea, than the one presently in place, is to provide car dealerships and used car lots with actual plates provided expressly for that purpose. Before people can drive away, either for a short period before they get their own or for a test drive, car salespeople would then have to type in the name of the person who would be driving the car into a special website (immediately available to police officers via computer) provided by the state’s or county’s department of motor vehicles. That way, only real license plates would be out on the road at all times. To cover other people who might not qualify to get regular license plates (which is another reason makes-shift plates come into play), the department of motor vehicles could lend temporary plates. These practices should obviate the practice of some people creating their own plates, often using nothing more than some basic arts and crafts materials. Whether by this or other means, the present system needs to be improved-not the least reason for which being the fact that it unnecessarily places in jeopardy the lives of police officers.
10. “Cop Killer” bullets-body-armour-piercing rounds. These bullets have been on the streets for a while. They can easily go through most metals, including iron, aluminum and stainless steel-they can also go through some bullet-proof vests. Some laws have been passed which attach serious extra penalties for the use (especially in handguns) of these bullets but, still, more needs to be done to discourage their use and to better prepare police officers for any possible engagement involving them.
1. “Firearms and Crime: Police Deaths and Injuries” (2002): http://www.libraryindex.com/pages/1756/Firearms-Crime-POLICE-DEATHS-INJURIES.html
2. “Fatalities to Law Enforcement Officers and Firefighters, 1992-1997” (1999): http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfar0029.txt