Local News

Program aimed at reducing number of officers killed on duty

AVON PARK - In the movies and the action television shows, its the bad guys that typically kill law enforcement officers.

But, in reality, Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton said, "We kill ourselves more than bad guys kill us."

Benton was speaking to a group of law enforcement officers from Highlands, Polk, DeSoto, Okeechobee, Hardee and Charlotte counties attending a class produced by the Below 100 initiative aimed at preventing preventable law enforcement officer deaths.

The reality is that while criminals kill some officers, many law enforcement deaths are attributable to speeding, poor maintenance of equipment and failure to wear seat belts and body armor or vests, said Lt. Dennis Valone, who is with the Alpharetta Department of Public Safety in Georgia.

Valone, an instructor and a trainer in the Below 100 program, said the goal is to reduce the number of law enforcement deaths to below 100 in a year. So far 94 officers have died in the line of duty in 2013, he said.

"The last time we had less than 100 killed (in a year) was 1944," he said.

In Highlands County, Deputy Richard Dick said the deputies he knows wear seatbelts and body armor. He said he thought the program was "super."

Gary Taylor, another trainer, who is with the Savannah, Ga., police department, said that if law enforcement wants to reduce the number of officers deaths, "We're going to have to take a long look at ourselves."

One of the major causes of deaths is accidents, either where an officer crashes his or her vehicle or one hits the officer or his vehicle, Taylor said.

"We have trees and poles killing more officers than guns," he said.

Taylor told of one instance where an officer speeded to get to an accident scene and ended up dying in a crash. It doesn't do any good for the officer needing backup or assistance if the responding lawman dies in a crash, he said.

In another case, an officer speeding at more than 100 miles per hour crashed into a vehicle with the result being that two sisters died, he said.

Another accident involved a family leaving a game when a trooper went through a stop sign and killed the wife/mother in the family, Taylor said. In that accident and the other one that killed the sisters, the officer faced criminal charges, he said.

"We're seeing police officers prosecuted criminally all over the nation for their decisions," he said.

Taylor said too many instances occur where a deputy speeds and has an accident, but no compelling reason existed for the officer to be speeding.

"We've got to change that culture of speed," he said.

If, for example, a deputy is dispatched to a fight, the deputy shouldn't risk his life to get there quickly, he said.

In a number of other cases, he said, deputies died because they weren't wearing their seat belts. Others deaths of law enforcement officers stemmed from confrontations with criminals and in some cases the officer wasn't wearing body armor, he said.


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