OnPolicing Blog

How Do We Protect the Protectors?

May 27, 2022


Natalie Mullins

NPI Project Associate and Fmr. Deputy Sheriff


Natalie Mullins

NPI Project Associate and Fmr. Deputy Sheriff

It goes without saying – law enforcement is an extremely dangerous profession. The statement is so ubiquitous that if you were to approach any law enforcement officer and told them of the dangers of the profession, you would be met with a blank expression that could only be read as: “Well, yeah, that’s just part of the job.”

But it shouldn’t be.

While there is no magic wand we can wave and eliminate the inherent dangers of the profession, there are evidence-based strategies and tools which can be implemented to enhance officer safety and wellness. For the last 52 years, the National Policing Institute (NPI) has been dedicated to developing these strategies in order to support innovative police leaders who are working tirelessly to build and sustain healthy agency cultures and to reduce (with the intent of eliminating) the number of officer injuries and line-of-duty deaths.

As it stands today, law enforcement as a profession endures fatality and injury rates more than three times higher than the national average for all other occupations in the United States.[1] In recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic took an unimaginable toll on the lives of officers and their families, leaving agencies rushing to find trusted resources and practices in unprecedented times. In addition to the steep increase in medical-related line-of-duty deaths, ambush style attacks tripled between 2020 and 2021, and struck-by fatalities increased by 93% during the same time period.[2] Furthermore, roadway-related fatalities account for roughly one-third of yearly line-of-duty deaths (excluding deaths caused by COVID-19), on average, and are typically as prevalent as deaths from felonious assaults. From a risk management perspective, it is critical to note that many, if not most, of these roadway fatalities and injuries are preventable.

In order to help agencies mitigate risk, NPI and its partners have developed evidence-based training, technical assistance, tools, and resources, which include best and promising practices in the field of officer safety. One such program is the National Law Enforcement Roadway Safety Program (NLERSP), which provides agencies with no-cost, life-saving roadway safety training. Another risk mitigation resource in NPI’s Officer Safety and Wellness portfolio is the Law Enforcement Officer Near Miss (LEO Near Miss) Reporting System,  which was adapted from the framework of other near-miss reporting systems in high-risk industries such as aviation and fire/EMS. The LEO Near Miss Reporting System is a platform for officers to anonymously share their “close calls” and lessons learned with the law enforcement community so that by reading these accounts, other officers in similar situations in the future will adopt safer practices which may prevent injury or save their lives.

Although every law enforcement officer may not be able to provide the source, the vast majority of law enforcement is familiar with Gordon Graham’s wise quote: “If it’s predictable, it’s preventable.” This quote is just as true for preventing mental and emotional injury as it is for preventing physical injury. We cannot speak of officer safety without also discussing officer wellness. While it is vital that law enforcement agencies provide the necessary training to prevent line-of-duty deaths, injuries, and near misses, it is equally important for agencies to establish mental health and wellness programs for the times when these tragedies do occur. NPI and its partners have published a number of officer safety and wellness guides and have produced informational webinars in which experts describe the impacts of trauma and stress on officer mental health and how agencies can develop and implement their own wellness programs. These programs are integral to creating resilient officers, families, and departments and establishing a healthy foundation for safe, ethical, and professional policing.

[1] United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Injuries, illnesses, and fatalities: Police officers 2018 [Fact sheet]. https://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfoi/police-2018.htm

[2] National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. (2021, July 19). Causes of law enforcement deaths (2011- 2020). https://nleomf.org/facts-figures/causes-of-law-enforcement-deaths

1 Comment

  1. AJ Lugo on June 25, 2022 at 2:37 pm

    As a former LEO, I agree that we have a monumental task ahead of us as it relates to the mental health and wellness of our public servants (LEOs).

    Today, LEOs have added stresses. Things like, defund the police sentiments and the increasing chance of being prosecution (perceived or real) for their actions during life-or-death situations are added mental burdens. Most LEOs are willing to risk their lives for strangers, but it is a little tougher risking your families well-being, meaning their financial ruin and disgrace as a result of biased prosecution.

    All this to say, we must protect our protectors. There are in greater need of mental health and wellness services now more than ever.

    Through difficulty and pain, good men and women will learn and grow. I have faith that our public servants will rise to the occasion with our encouragement and support!

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Natalie Mullins

NPI Project Associate and Fmr. Deputy Sheriff

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