End of Watch: January 2013

We all have a responsibility to improve officer safety, both individually & across the profession


Dale Stockton | Friday, February 1, 2013

Five officers lost their lives during January 2013. That compares with 15 lost during January 2012. Of the officers who were killed, three died in vehicle collisions and two were killed by gunfire. The five officers lost in January follow the final tally of 2012 which came in at 126. The 2012 figure was the lowest seen in more than 50 years according to our partners at the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP.org).

Those of us who are involved in the Below 100 effort (drive down line-of-duty deaths to fewer than 100 annually) are greatly encouraged by the progress being made, but we’ve got a long way to go. I encourage all of you to examine every LODD or serious injury as details emerge and look for lessons that can help prevent a recurrence. It's fitting to honor those who have died, but it's imperative that we properly equip and train the living. This means sharing the details of mistakes that others have made, even when it’s painful or embarrassing to do so. We all have a responsibility to improve officer safety, both individually and across the profession.

On behalf of Law Officer, I extend condolences to every coworker, family member and agency that has experienced a line-of-duty loss. Here are summaries of our losses during the month of January, listed in order of occurrence.

Puerto Rico Correctional Officer Eliezer Colón-Claussells, 35, and Agent Mayra Ramírez-Barreto, 52, of the Puerto Rico Department of Justice, were killed while in Oklahoma to extradite three prisoners. The two officers were in a van with two other officers when an oncoming vehicle crossed the center-line and struck their van head-on. Agent Ramírez-Barreto, who was driving, and the other driver were trapped inside the vehicles for several hours and both died at the scene. Officer Colón-Claussells died after being transported to the hospital. The other two officers in the van were seriously injured.

Galt, Calif., Police Officer Kevin Tonn, 35, was shot and killed after responding to a call of a burglary. Upon arrival, Officer Tonn approached a subject he thought might be involved in the call. An intense physical struggle ensued and the subject fired a single shot from a small handgun, striking Tonn in the head. The subject subsequently committed suicide. Tonn had previously served as both a firefighter and medic.

Tennessee State Trooper Michael Slagle, 52, died after a vehicle crash in Knox County. His vehicle slid off the roadway after he struck a patch of ice on the roadway. Although trapped in the vehicle, he was able to call for assistance and fire crews were sent to the scene. A responding fire truck slid on the same patch of ice and flipped over on top of Trooper Slagle’s vehicle. He subsequently died of heart failure.

Chitimacha Tribal Police Department, La., Police Sergeant Rick Riggenbach, 52, died after he and two St. Mary Parish, La., deputies responded to a report of a fire at a mobile home and an armed subject. When Sgt. Riggenbach arrived on scene, the subject opened fire with a shotgun, fatally wounding the sergeant. As the two St. Mary Parish deputies got to the scene, they were also fired upon and both were seriously wounded. When the fire was extinguished, the body of the owner was found inside. The fire had been set by the same subject who killed Sgt. Riggenbach and it was later determined he had a history of mental illness.  

Conclusion
Here’s a challenge to each of you to help reduce preventable deaths and injuries: If you had to identify where the next serious injury or line-of-duty death is most likely to come from, where would it be? Driving? Complacency? A training accident? Warrant service?

Once you’ve answered the question, do everything in your power to address that problem. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Now, think about who is most likely to end up lost or seriously injured in a preventable incident and engage in the all-important courageous conversation. The person you talk to might not appreciate it until much later, but you’ll be doing the right thing.

Below 100: The time is now! More information at www.Below100.com.

 




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Dale StocktonThe editor of Law Officer Magazine, Dale Stockton is a 32-year-veteran of law enforcement.

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