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Behind the Badge Behind the Badge: The real dangers of police work are not what you think

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Posted: Monday, July 11, 2011 12:00 am

Many people count the possibility of getting shot as the most significant danger a police officer faces. Officer-involved shootings appear to be on the rise, and there is no shortage of video footage on television or online showing shootouts between officers and criminals. But is that the most dangerous aspect of police work?

Today’s law enforcement officers face a multitude of dangers in their everyday duties that rival the threat of getting shot. For example:

  • Foot pursuits
  • Vehicle pursuits
  • Responding code 3 (lights and siren)
  • Making an arrest
  • Traffic control
  • Heat stroke
  • Stress
  • Duty equipment
  • Biohazard exposure/sun exposure

Officers are exposed to these dangers on a daily basis.

They wear ballistic vests and heavy leather belts containing batons, pepper spray, handcuffs, a radio and a handgun. The equipment they wear can weigh up to 20 pounds, which puts a tremendous amount of stress on the back, hips, knees and feet. They must also get into and out of a patrol vehicle up to 20 times a day wearing this equipment. As a result many officers injure themselves to the point of being unable to work in law enforcement any longer.

Officers are also exposed to extreme temperatures for extended periods of time. Whether they are conducting traffic control at an accident scene in 100 degree heat or providing crime scene security in freezing temperatures, they are at the mercy of the elements. Most time they have not had time to stop at the store or the station before they are sent to the call so they can be standing out there without the proper protection or hydration they might need.

In addition to the physical dangers officers must deal with, they also must always be ready for the unknown. This can place a significant amount of physical and mental stress on the officer. They must conduct business in “condition yellow,” not overly anxious but aware of their environment at all times.

Officers need to remain vigilant and prepared for any situation that develops. Rarely does an officer have time to fully prepare for the emergency call for service. They have to rely on their training and make split second decisions based on an ever changing set of circumstances.

But one of the most dangerous aspects of police work is pursuit driving or responding “code 3.” Not only do the officers have to be in control of their own vehicle, they must be fully aware of the traffic surrounding them. They are also responsible for the fleeing suspect even though they have no control over his vehicle.

One of an officer’s main priorities when responding “code 3”, or pursuing a fleeing suspect is to ensure the safety of the public. This takes split-second decision making, specific driving skills and an awareness of the motoring public that may not see the officer or the fleeing suspect.

It’s fun watching “Scariest Police Chases” on television, but it’s a totally different feeling when you’re actually in one of those pursuits.

So why do officers put themselves in danger each and everyday? Is it the excitement? Do they need a surge of adrenaline?

They do it because they realize Lodi is a unique city in the Central Valley and keeping its residents safe is fulfilling. All most officers ask in return is an occasional “thank you” for the effort they put in each and every day.

Any comments, questions or advice for Behind the Badge can be e-mailed to Jeanie Biskup at jbiskup@pd.lodi.gov; mailed to Lodi Police Department, 215 W. Elm St., Lodi, CA 95240; or asked by phone at 333-6864.

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Welcome to the discussion.


  • Raymond Cook posted at 8:15 pm on Sun, Jul 17, 2011.

    Raymond Cook Posts: 125

    On Sunday, 7-17-11 in back of the downtown bus station at 2:45 pm I got to see LPD at their best; as they apprehended a male suspect who had pulled out a semi-automatic pistol and put the clip into the gun. LPD was there within 1-2 minutes.

    Great work LPD.

    It's said how some folks want to hate the police.

    Obey the law and no one has anything to fear from the police.

  • Joanne Bobin posted at 10:21 pm on Tue, Jul 12, 2011.

    Joanne Bobin Posts: 4488

    Nice thought, Mr. Musto...but we were caught on the spot trying to flee to downtown Gilroy - don't even remember why we were going there since it was before the inception of the Garlic Festival even!

    That episode ranks right up there as one of the most memorable, not even close to the birth of my kids, but without the red and blue lights.

    But then and since I have gained respect for the CHP - overall they are a pretty level headed bunch given the prospect of encountering crazy travelers from all around the state and country. I've found them to be the most courteous and respectful bunch when doing a traffic stop (yes, I've gotten a speeding ticket on I5).

    Always cause for pause when encountering a highway sign dedicated to a fallen CHP officer.

  • Doug Chaney posted at 9:38 pm on Tue, Jul 12, 2011.

    Doug Chaney Posts: 1232

    Amen, Mr. Krein!

  • Gerald Krein posted at 7:40 pm on Tue, Jul 12, 2011.

    Gerald Krein Posts: 20

    Having worked in law enforcement for over 33 years of which 22 were in patrol or detectives, I believe Sgt. Sierra Brucia is a little melodramatic. I know many officers who worked for over 30 years in police work and most of them seem to handle the stress of the job very well. All of the good ones loved going to in progress hot calls and tried to get in any pursuit that came along. Most of them did not necessarily like the paper work. The toughest part of the job is the wear and tear on the body over a number of years. With the number of physical altercations, weaponless defense training and physical force an officer has to exert over a number of years, they have a cumulative effect on the back, knees and shoulders of the officers. Most of the stress in the job comes from the administration not the people you deal with on the street. It is one of the few jobs in the world that people want to come out and do it for free as a reserve or auxiliary officer. I truly enjoyed going to work everyday.

  • Kim Lee posted at 5:39 pm on Tue, Jul 12, 2011.

    Kim Lee Posts: 1798

    Joanne Bobin: Wow! What a terrible way to start life in California. I would not be surprised if you had turned right around and headed back out of the state.

  • Gary Musto posted at 2:21 pm on Tue, Jul 12, 2011.

    Gary Musto Posts: 506

    Joanne, please tell me it wasn't you being highlighted on America's Most Wanted last Saturday night???

    Something about a young couple from out of town fleeing from the long arm of the law in a Central California community back in the 70's, split the reward money with ya.

  • Joanne Bobin posted at 1:28 pm on Tue, Jul 12, 2011.

    Joanne Bobin Posts: 4488

    In my experience, "failure to yield" is an add-on offense when an officer has turned on his lights and expects an offender to pull-over for the traffic stop.

    This happened to my husband and I in Hollister when we first arrived in California in the late '70's. We were looking for a particular left turn lane through a median and my husband turned slightly left and realized it was the wrong one - he continued on the roadway and made his left turn onto the road to Gilroy. A short while later a city cop was on his tail. The way the sun was shining on his vehicle, we couldn't tell if his lights were on (apparently they were on, but not flashing), so continued on our way.

    I turned in my seat to look several times because we stupidly wondered what was going on, thinking that perhaps he was headed to an accident or such. The cop could see me, but never made a hand signal or pulled up alongside. Instead, four miles later he called the CHP and six cars forced a roadblock to stop us. All that for the minor infraction of pulling to the left and back again.

    Needless to say, because of his decision to "call out the cavalry," the cop arrested my husband (at gun point) against the advice of the CHP officers who tried to tell him to just write a ticket. He was charged with "reckless driving, resisting arrest and failure to yield."

    $300 later (for an attorney), all charges were dropped in court and the cop agreed to apologize for mishandling a simple traffic stop.

    What a "Welcome to California" that turned out to be!

  • daniel hutchins posted at 7:30 pm on Mon, Jul 11, 2011.

    daniel hutchins Posts: 1342

    The statement about "failure to yield" was an actual excuse for making a traffic stop.

  • daniel hutchins posted at 7:29 pm on Mon, Jul 11, 2011.

    daniel hutchins Posts: 1342

    Jerome. I appreciate the response.

    Whereas I am studying common law, which is virtually unknown on the American continent, whenever I refer to its principles in a public forum, I do so at risk of losing more than my reputation. I did mention two people that I knew who got killed in a police ambush in which nobody was going to get out alive. In study, I knew these people and I met them about 6 times. I do agree that they had a gruff personality, but I don’t agree that they killed 2 cops. The evidence that was presented to the people was a photoshop job, with a film of police walking around a clipart of a dead cop with contrasting pixel quality, lack of blood, and a photo border problem at the edges of the images. They weren’t 100% my best friends, and I wouldn’t invite them over for dinner, and in fact they were homeless and I didn’t invite them in. However, they are accused of killing 2 cops, and since everybody is dead, there isn’t going to be a trial. In response to my letter on this topic, certain people celebrated fishing.

  • Jerome Kinderman posted at 5:10 pm on Mon, Jul 11, 2011.

    Jerome R Kinderman Posts: 2370

    Mr. Paglia, clearly being a police officer has many dangers attached to the job. But since each one of them carries a weapon on their hip, this denotes the fact that they are as ready as possible to defend those with a much larger arsenal. I think if one were to ask the spouse or children of these men and women what they fear most about their husband's/wives’/parent's job, it would be to be taken down by a criminal's gun.

    My comments however were more in response to what to me sounded like a relatively dismissive attitude toward the dangers of the bad guys' guns. You wrote that your brother is a cop in Bakersfield, so yeah it gets pretty hot down there. Naturally they’re more concerned with dehydration on their shifts than in perhaps San Francisco. So they at least have the means to get a good idea as to what the weather might be and then act accordingly to prepare their bodies for those conditions.

    But thanks for that information. Having served in the Air Force for nearly eight years, my war-time specialty required me to engage in certain activities that often had many of us on the brink of dehydration and sleep deprivation. I couldn’t imagine actually having to face an enemy in that garb and under those conditions. But it was my trusty M-16 that I imagined would save the day for me. Thankfully I never had to use it either. Allow me to extend to your brother – through you – my thanks for the often-time thankless job he does in Bakersfield.

  • Kevin Paglia posted at 2:54 pm on Mon, Jul 11, 2011.

    Kevin Paglia Posts: 2106

    Jerome, let me address the getting shot question. My brother is a cop in Bakersfield. Almost 12 years now. He has not once had to pull his gun. But he has entered the first stages of dehydration, no longer sweating, repeatedly. He has worked several DUI check points and had cars nearly run him over trying Doug's "these are illegal" mentality. And as a motorcycle cop for a few years, he had several vehicles pull out right in front of him, one where he had to ditch the bike.

    From an isolated incident, yes, getting shot is a very dangerous situation. But over the career of a cop they may never get shot at but they will face many other real dangers on a regular basis making those situations MORE dangerous, cumulatively, over the career of a cop. In fact, more cops died in traffic accidents than gun shot in 2010.

  • Jerome Kinderman posted at 12:55 pm on Mon, Jul 11, 2011.

    Jerome R Kinderman Posts: 2370

    Sgt. Sierra Brucia asks, "... is [getting shot] the most dangerous aspect of police work?"

    Even when seriously considering his list of other hazards of police work, I still have to ask him, "Are YOU kidding?" What else is more important than NOT getting shot? Out of, "Foot pursuits, Vehicle pursuits, Responding code 3 (lights and siren), Making an arrest, Traffic control, Heat stroke, Stress, Duty equipment, [or] Biohazard exposure/sun exposure," please advise as to which one of these comes even close? I'd suggest that all of these things combined pale in comparison to having another human being take aim with a firearm and then pulling the trigger.

    Oh yeah, the "real dangers of police work" are precisely what we have always thought them to be - ending one's shift in either the hospital or the morgue. I’d be really interested in hearing anyone argue with that.

  • Jerome Kinderman posted at 11:26 am on Mon, Jul 11, 2011.

    Jerome R Kinderman Posts: 2370

    Although I am not a police officer, I'll take a stab at the questions offered by Mr. Hutchins.

    1. Police are sworn to enforce the law; not interpret it based upon their opinion as to its correctness. If an unlawful detainer action is ultimately found to be deficient, it will be up to the courts to correct whatever "wrongs" are committed as a result of a policeman's (or anyone else associated with it) duty to enforce it. Nevertheless, each police officer should have been well aware of these “moral” decisions that they would have to face prior to taking their oath; it would have been at that point when they should have decided to not agree to “protect and to serve.”

    2. The Magna Carta, while a very important document is not what we rely upon here today in the United States to determine how our laws are considered valid; the Constitution of the United States is.

    3. While not necessarily a “good one,” I will concede that a “yielding” violation insofar as driving a motor vehicle is concerned can be hard to prove. I’ve been in situations recently where drivers clearly violated the spirit and letter of the law in this regard; had a police officer witnessed any one of these two instances I’m confident that a citation would have been issued. Still, I would find it interesting to know just how many people are ticketed for “failure to yield” here in Lodi.

    Mr. Hutchins’ third example is the only one that doesn’t appear to be somewhat confrontational – and that’s ok; I’m not complaining about his approach other than he is becoming quite predictable. But I find his motives to be suspect, especially in light of his premature apology ten minutes later. Clearly, he fears the police and how they might react if they were to take umbrage to Mr. Hutchins’ seemingly innocent questions.

  • daniel hutchins posted at 2:17 am on Mon, Jul 11, 2011.

    daniel hutchins Posts: 1342

    That was intended respectfully.

    I'm only trying to publish the issues for discussion.

  • daniel hutchins posted at 2:07 am on Mon, Jul 11, 2011.

    daniel hutchins Posts: 1342

    I agree that it is a very dangerous job.
    I agree that a lot of cops want to protect the people.

    I have some questions.

    1) If a law is passed which violates one's moral standards, how would an officer feel about enforcing that law? Examples: Seizure of children by CPS allegations. Enforcement of unlawful detainer actions in fraudulent foreclosure actions.

    2) How many human rights are violated in the name of protecting the public? Example: Traffic stops which do not have an injured party. This is a fundamental violation of the magna carta.

    Here's a good one: I pulled you over for failure to yield. To whom did I not yield? Obviously you would have yielded if you had seen who it was.


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