A Descriptive Analysis of Occupational Fatalities Due to Felonious Assault Among U.S. Law Enforcement Officers During Tactical Incidents, 1996-2014

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Thompson MS, Hartman TM, Sztajnkrycer MD 17(3). 69 - 73 (Journal Article)

Introduction: Little is known about occupational fatalities among tactical officers. A greater understanding of such injuries is needed to improve officer safety. The purpose of this study was to provide a descriptive analysis of line-of-duty deaths secondary to felonious assault during tactical incidents. Methods: Retrospective analysis was performed of open-source de-identified Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reporting Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) data inclusive of the years 1996-2014. Officers were included if the fatal injury occurred during operations by a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team, fugitive task force, narcotics task force, or if the LEOKA narrative described the event as a tactical situation. Results: Of 1,012 officer deaths during the study period, 57 (5.6%) involved tactical officers. On average (± standard deviation), victim officers were 37.3 ± 7.8 years of age at the time of death, with 11.7 ± 6.6 years of law enforcement experience. High-risk warrant service accounted for 63.2% of fatalities. A single officer was killed in 91.2% of incidents; 49.1% of cases involved injuries to other officers. The majority of officers (59.6%) killed were the first officer(s) to enter the scene. The most commonly identified cause of death was head trauma (n = 28). Chest trauma accounted for 14 deaths; 10 (71.4%) sustained an entry wound via the ballistic vest armhole. Where recorded, 52.0% of officers died within the first hour of injury. The provision or nature of buddy care, tactical emergency medical services (EMS) care, or conventional EMS care was rarely noted. Conclusion: Tactical officer deaths most commonly occur during high-risk warrant service, and most often involve the first officer(s) to enter a scene, suggesting an opportunity for improved operational tactics. The frequency of fatal axillary penetration suggests the opportunity for ballistic protection redesign. Information is lacking regarding on-scene care, limiting the ability to determine optimal medical procedures for downed officers during tactical operations. Nearly 50% of victim officers survived more than 1 hour from time of injury, suggesting opportunities to intervene and potentially affect outcomes.

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