We are only in the month of March, but 16 police officers and eight K9 officers have already lost their lives this year in the line of duty. Many of the police officers were veterans, so their deaths affect both the law enforcement and military communities.

Police are facing more aggressive attacks and targeted ambushes than ever before. How can police departments provide their officers with the right training and equipment to reduce this trend for the remainder of 2016 and beyond?

The leading causes of deaths for police

In a 2010 study, Matthew D. Sztajnkrycer, MD, PhD, FACEP, conducted a review of the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) program for the years 1998–2007 in order to report how officers die during law enforcement operations, and to discuss how specific medical interventions might have saved them. According to this study, the leading cause of death for officers was motor vehicle accidents. In 2016, motor vehicle accidents are down 63 percent.

The second leading cause was felonious assaults. Police officers usually die from three types of traumatic injuries: gunshot wounds to the head, penetrating chest-wall trauma, and exsanguination from bleeding extremities. Although most deaths from gunshot wounds to the head are not preventable, deaths from penetrating chest wall trauma and bleeding extremities are, if the proper medical care is given at the point of wounding.

How can preventable deaths be reduced?

Police departments that incorporate lessons learned from the military can increase the survivability and decrease preventable deaths of their officers. The only way to accomplish that is through more protective equipment and medical training. Police are more vulnerable to traumatic injuries than military due to the lack of hard plates within their protective vests and a lack of ballistic glass in their patrol cars.

When the military switched to MRAPs (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) instead of Humvees, countless lives were saved. The cost to switch to MRAPs was significant but worth the lives and limbs it saved. Ballistic glass is very expensive and equipping every patrol car may seem unrealistic and unobtainable to most police departments.

But consider that officers in their squad cars are most vulnerable to gunshot wounds to the head. The head and neck are exposed above the dashboard. With all of their extra equipment, taser, and weapon on the duty belt, they cannot take cover easily if fired upon from outside the vehicle. Ballistic glass could give them a fighting chance to get out of a dangerous situation.

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This officer was shot in the head while still in his police vehicle. Image courtesy of AP

It is understandable with the current economy that police department budgets have been cut. Training officers now have to prioritize their funds, which usually means limiting training and forgoing much-needed equipment. Protective equipment such as lightweight and top-of-the-line hard plates for vests, tourniquets with belt-mounted holsters, and individual first-aid kits (IFAKs) should be considered as standard issue for preventing police officer deaths. Most of the officers I know have personally bought their medical equipment because their department does not have the funding for it. The majority of the department budget surpluses are now going toward body cameras.

Additionally, medical training that goes beyond “self-aid/buddy-aid” (which is usually only a four-hour course) should be more comprehensive to incorporate more advanced procedures like those found in the military’s tactical combat casualty care or TCCC. For example, treating a tension pneumothorax with needle decompression. The military has made some great advances in treating traumatic injuries due to the high incidence rate in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Officers have to be trained and prepared to treat life-threatening injuries on themselves or their fellow officers at the point of wounding because EMS is usually not able to reach the scene until the threat is neutralized. Those precious seconds and minutes after the point of wounding can alter the outcome of a person’s life.

Moving forward

Individual police departments will have to take a stand and request more money from local taxpayers and their states in order to incorporate more ballistic equipment and advanced medical training and gear. This might be the only way to significantly reduce preventable deaths of police in the future.

Featured image courtesy of New York Daily News