Saving lives among the ranks of the Thin Blue Line is the goal of the Below 100 campaign, which Amherst police joined this spring.
The idea is lower line-of-duty deaths to fewer than 100 nationwide.
“A lot of police officers die from accidents and this is about decreasing preventable deaths,” said Lt. Dan Makruski.
Officers have gotten extra training in recent months in everything from seat belt safety to tactical response.
Amherst has lost exactly one officer in the line of duty: Constable Rupert Becker was shot four times in April 1916 while chasing a suspect from a downtown bar.
While officers here have gone nearly a century without another such tragedy, Makruski said police are very much aware of daily dangers.
“The safety of our officers is second only to the safety of the public. It has to be at the forefront of everybody’s mind,” he said. “The big picture is a matter of assessing risk and taking steps to limit the risk where it can be controlled.”
Wearing seat belts and bulletproof vests are the easiest steps officers can take to prevent injury or death, he said.
Wellington police chief Tim Barfield is spearheading the Below 100 effort in Lorain County.
The state-endorsed program is being rolled out at a number of departments due to the efforts of the Lorain County Police Chiefs Association.
It is based on five tennets: Wear your seat belt, wear your vest, watch your speed, focus on what is important in different situations, and remember that complacency kills.
The most predictable mistakes are also the most preventable, Barfield said.
“We know if a policeman wears a seat belt there’s a much greater chance of surviving a crash than if he’s not wearing a seat belt,” he said. “We know if an officer wears his bulletproof vest he has a much greater chance of surviving a gun fight than if he’s not wearing it. And we know if officers themselves would slow down instead of driving too fast to a call that they would have a greater chance of surviving because as speed goes up (the) survival rate goes down.”
Barfield is one of the instructors of the four-hour Below 100 training program.
Sessions involve a lot of videos and slides, including ones of officers who have make mistakes. Sometimes they serve as a wake-up call for officers who may employ the same bad practices.
Encouraging courageous conversations is also part of the training sessions.
This means speaking up and telling fellow officers if they’re doing something they shouldn’t, such as driving too fast or not wearing their vests.
“Courage is a tough thing,” Barfield said. “It’s hard to have courage to tell people what’s right or wrong. It’s a whole different thing to have courage to tell people that you care about what’s right or wrong because we worry about how they take us.”
Barfield is glad his officers and those across Lorain County are participating.
“This is an incredibly important program,” he said. “What we do as policemen is dangerous enough. We need to stop and take a look at the things we can control because losing an officer is terrible under any set of circumstances.”
Kelsey Leyva can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @ TWE_KelseyLeyva on Twitter. Jason Hawk also contributed to this story.