Managing risk in any industry is a good idea, but when your employees could, at any moment, become engaged in a physical altercation, drive at high speeds or chase bad guys in a foot pursuit, it is critical to be proactive about keeping them safe. Kentucky League of Cities Law Enforcement Consultant Troy Pitcock walked us through recent trends in officer injuries and how he and fellow Law Enforcement Consultant Brian Nunn work to improve officer safety in the commonwealth.
WHY SHOULD LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES MAKE RISK MANAGEMENT A PRIORITY?
If you care about your people, your goal as any leader in law enforcement is to ensure they go home safely every night. Part of that safety is physical, and that they have the training, the tools and the leadership to do their job properly.
In addition to that, on the litigation side, a lot of stress comes with litigation. Even if that litigation does happen, if you’ve done the proper training, and you’ve documented that training, it’s certainly going to take some stress off the officer knowing they can show they have been following best practices.
IN YOUR ROLE AS A LAW ENFORCEMENT CONSULTANT, CAN YOU DESCRIBE SOME WAYS YOU WORK TO KEEP KENTUCKY’S OFFICERS SAFE?
It begins by looking at trends, tracking the trends of how officers are being killed, injured and sued by civil litigation. Not only in Kentucky, but this trend also is seen nationwide. We primarily focus on Kentucky. Weekly, we get an update on injuries or litigations for the officers we insure in the state of Kentucky. Monthly, we publish a report that we send out to everyone. We know that sending that out to everyone, coming from the private sector, when people in a field know how other people in their field are being injured, it greatly reduces injuries. So that’s one place to begin.
Everything begins with educating people on where the injuries occur and litigation, for that matter, and then developing techniques to address those.
Most recently, we have noticed an uptick in needle sticks and opioid exposures, particularly related to heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil. We have worked closely with some partners to produce a video using two real-life examples of an officer and deputy telling their stories about being exposed to an opioid on duty. We brought in some experts in the field of narcotics to address best practices, including Dr. Bill Smock, a Louisville Metro Police physician.
Going back even prior to that, we wrote blue pages (short documents that should be used for roll-call training for departments to provide education). We look at the topic at hand – in this case, needle sticks – and some tactics to prevent being stuck. For example, don’t put your hands where you can’t see and utilize sharps containers. If you don’t have a sharps container available, you can use a Tide bottle, for instance. Take the label off, and mark it as a sharps container. Never pick up a needle; use a device, like pliers, and place the needle in a sharps container.
A large number of needle sticks have been occurring when people are trying to recap needles. So, we’re trying to educate everyone about not re-capping needles. That’s the most recent example of a trend of injuries we have discovered and a safety response to deal with that.
In addition to program development, when you’ve got the information, you have to distribute it to the right people to utilize. The final part of that is, we visit each of our departments a minimum of once every three years and do a safety and liability review. So, when we have issues like this, that is part of the safety and liability review to ensure they are following best practices. That relates to their insurance premiums. If you get a certain score, cities get a discount based on following best practices.
WHAT RECENT TRENDS HAVE YOU SEEN IN HOW OFFICERS ARE BEING HURT?
There are two in particular. We are seeing a lot of foot-pursuit injuries. Ensuring a department has a policy that relates to foot persuits, that officers are following that policy, and officers are using good common sense is important. As an example, we have a department that has reported multiple injuries near a local retailer. It is situated higher, and officers were falling down the hill when suspects ran. The department realized officers were being injured, and what they did was, instead of chasing people down the hill, they would call in another officer in a cruiser to catch them at the bottom. Very basic response.
Another thing we’re seeing is training injuries. What we know is that, because of the times we are currently in of trying to get good, quality candidates to fill positions, we are sometimes getting people who barely pass the [Peace Officer Professional Standards] exam. Then they don’t start the Law Enforcement Basic Training Academy until four to six months later. They’ve done nothing in the meantime to keep their conditioning in place, and when they get to the academy, they can’t pass the POPS test and are in much worse shape than they were when they took the test. As a result, we are seeing injuries.
KLC offers a safety grant that is geared specifically toward how injuries are occurring in our cities and with our public works folks. On the law enforcement side, the items we are able to get funding for all relate to how officers are being hurt in the field.
One thing we’re looking at this year relates to needle sticks, once again, and opioid exposures in general. Personal-protection equipment is included in the grant this year, and that’s a wide range of equipment. Gloves, protective suits – anything you can articulate to us that relates to personal protective equipment for your folks to reduce the likelihood of exposures, is available.
The grants are based on needs and trends we have identified. We want to be proactive. We’re not waiting for you to be exposed. We’re trying to be proactive and reduce the risk.
Law enforcement is a profession where the trends nationally relate locally. If you are seeing multiple needle sticks in one area of the country, we know that heroin moves across the country to different areas, so that will come to Kentucky. Trends often begin on the east or west coast and end up in Kentucky some time later. Sometimes weeks later, sometimes months, but those trends that are somewhere else, particularly in bigger cities, will eventually come here.
We see it come into Kentucky in different ways. Generally, a trend will hit just about every section of the state, whether it’s methamphetamine, heroin; whatever the case may be. Different things hit urban areas quicker than rural ones. Others will hit a rural area quicker than they hit an urban area. There may be some different pockets of the state that don’t experience it.
HOW CAN OFFICERS MITIGATE AND PREVENT THESE RISKS?
Mitigating and preventing begins with identifying the problem and looking at best practices across the country that have been successful. For instance, we know that nationally, we are having training injuries, and, actually, some fatal training injuries. We can look at Florida, where an individual was killed at the training academy.
We had been proactive on the front end in Kentucky before that happened. We knew Minnesota had addressed this through the Training Safety Officer program. So, we brought in the individual who developed that program and helped initiate that across the state of Kentucky. We also produced a video for officers who were unable to attend the training about how the TSO program works. In addition, we worked with DOCJT and instructor development to add the TSO program to that training as well.
HOW DO POLICIES DIRECTLY RELATE TO CRITICAL SAFETY ISSUES?
We know that there are 12 critical tasks in law enforcement, and we have policy that relates to those critical tasks. Sometimes there is one policy that will deal with it; sometimes there may be a couple policies. Like, with vehicle operations, you have pursuit operations, you have the take-home policy, you have seat-belt policy. The way that the model policy works is that we look at those 12 critical tasks, but we also look at [Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police] accreditation. We are a big supporter of KACP accreditation, and it is broken down into approximately 30 chapters. Those chapters focus on the 12 critical tasks, but what we are working toward is providing a model policy for every one of those chapters of accreditation.
We have taken it a step further, and have another section on our model policy webpage that breaks it down into accreditation, so we have a sample. The model policy board meets quarterly at the KLC office in Lexington. There are multiple chiefs, retired chiefs, police attorneys, sheriffs, KLC and [Kentucky Association of Counties] who serve on that committee. We take a policy that was designed for us by Jack Ryan of the Legal Liability Risk Management Institute, go through that policy line-by-line, word-for-word and look for anything needing to be changed. We make recommendations, and that goes back to Ryan. He agrees or disagrees, and we ultimately go back and forth until we have a model.
The reason this program is so successful is because it lines up with KACP accreditation and focuses on the critical tasks and policies that every law enforcement agency needs. Lastly, we have buy-in, because spread throughout the state, we have a number of chiefs from various different sizes of departments who sit on the committee and help put that together.
Additionally, the policy is designed by the leading law enforcement expert in the country, Jack Ryan, who we work in conjunction with to get those policies.
HOW DOES THE TI RESPONSE TO ACTIVE RESISTANCE TRAINING SIMULATOR KEEP KENTUCKY OFFICERS SAFER?
This system is designed to address active resistance that law enforcement face. Each year, we design 10 scenarios specifically dealing with what we’ve seen across the country or within the state. People think of it as primarily firearms driven. We have other options available, like less-than-lethal force, whether it be the Taser, baton or an ASP. Officers go through the scenarios and make decisions based on what’s presented to them.
In the scenarios, the instructor is able to select options for what the person may do based on what they may see the officer responding to, what they’re seeing on the scene, whether they’re giving verbal commands; those kinds of things. You’re really working on how an officer responds to resistance, particularly if it’s a situation that began with some verbal discussion where it may escalate from there.
Since the program began using simulators approximately 10 years ago, we have seen the number of injuries to officers [in use-of-force situations] decline. Because, once again, it’s better training on other options.
We have approximately 50 host sites within the state. We have three simulators, and they are distributed by region – an east, central and west region. We have identified host sites in each region, and the Ti simulator goes to a location and stays there for “X” number of weeks. Then it moves within each of those regions.
Before all that happens, we develop those new scenarios, and annually, we run a two-day conference where instructors get 16 hours of KLEC credit for instruction on the simulator. If the system is used properly, the instructors know specifically what the participants’ response should be, and what they should be looking for in those scenarios.
We have built the statute, KRS 503.090, which gives officers the ability to use force, into all the scenarios so they understand that. Graham v. Connor, the court case that allows officers to use force, also is built into every scenario, so they see that directly on the screen as well.
We teach the instructors to debrief the officer on why they used force and to explain why they made the decisions they made based on the statute and Graham v. Connor.
The simulator is very beneficial in reducing risks to officers for a number of reasons. First, it puts officers in real-life situations and provides them an opportunity to respond to changing situations, just like on a call for service. We have a committee that actively searches for patterns in use of force situations. Officer confidence increases as they participate and review tactics, policy and current case law. Nearly every scenario concludes with an actual video of the situation to which the officer was just exposed, so there is no, ‘Well, that will never happen to me.’
With nearly 50 host sites across the commonwealth, we have the simulator generally within about 30 minutes of every police department we insure. Every department is notified of the location, dates it will be present, and the instructor’s contact information. There is basically no reason all our officers shouldn’t be participating in this critical training.