This last month was a tragic reminder that our most prevalent threat in law enforcement is with vehicle operations. From single vehicle crashes and being struck by a vehicle to pursuits, June reminds us all that for close to 20 years our profession has dealt with a shift in danger from predominantly firearm related line of duty deaths to vehicle related.
We lost two heroes in June during pursuit operations. We have averaged just four pursuit deaths a year for the last decade so this is high for a monthly total but we should remind ourselves of the extreme dangers that vehicle pursuits present to our profession. Unlike other actions we take, vehicle pursuits are unpredictable and lengthy with a constant changing decision making process. Add to that, the physiological effects of stress on all involved and innocent civilians on the roadway and the outcome can be often tragic.
The Big 3
Policy, Training and Technology must constantly evolve when it comes to an agency’s pursuit operations. Policy should be specific and give the officer detailed information on what is expected. Training should be constant and rigorous. Unfortunately, we rarely see regular training in this area after the basic academy. Most officers are given a few days of specific “pursuit” training in an academy setting and for years to come we expect perfection in this area when a pursuit occurs and depending on the jurisdiction it can be a very rare occurrence. No one would dare not train with firearms at least annually but we routinely ignore vehicle operations, which happens to be the most deadly to our profession. Our technology in combatting vehicle pursuits is woefully inadequate. While we have rightfully developed less lethal options and a wide variety of other safety technologies in our profession throughout the years, the most common technology in regards to police pursuits remains essentially a string with nails on the end, more commonly referred to as “tire deflation devices.” Our profession needs change in each of these areas and it is time that we demand it. Nine officers lost their lives this month. Here's how they died, listed in order of occurence.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Zacarias Toro, United States Department of Justice, 50, died as the result of cancer that he developed following his assignment to assist with search and rescue efforts at the World Trade Center site immediately following the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks. He was also assigned to provide security for members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency at Ground Zero following the attacks and was exposed to toxic conditions for an extended period of time. His health continued to deteriorate until passing away on June 14th, 2015. The World Trade Center Health Program determined that the cancer he developed was a direct result of his exposure to the World Trade Center site. Deputy Marshal Toro had served with the United States Marshals Service for 15 years. He is survived by his wife, daughter, three sons, and mother.
Sheriff Ladson O'Connor, Montgomery County Sheriff's Office, Ga., was killed in a vehicle crash during a pursuit of two subjects on Highway 56 near the Toombs County / Montgomery County line at approximately 1 a.m. The pursuit started in Toombs County when deputies attempted to stop the vehicle. The vehicle fled as its occupants fired shots at the pursuing Toombs County deputies. Sheriff O'Connor joined the pursuit near the county line. His vehicle left the roadway and struck a tree, causing him to suffer fatal injuries. The female subject in the car was arrested a short time later. The male subject was arrested approximately eight hours later following a large manhunt. Sheriff O'Connor is survived by his wife and four children.
Police Officer Rick Silva, Chehalis Police Department, Wash., died while undergoing surgery to correct a duty related injury suffer sustained in February 2015 while attempting to arrest a shoplifting suspect.
The offender, who was armed with a knife, resisted arrest. During the ensuing struggle Officer Silva injured his hip in the same location in which he had suffered a previous duty injury. The second injury required him to undergo surgery. Officer Silva had served with the Chehalis Police Department for 13 years and had previously served with the Lewis County Sheriff's Office for 12 years.
Police Officer Sonny Kim, Cincinnati Police Department, Ohio,48, was shot and killed after responding to a 911 call at a home near the intersection of Roe Street and Whetsel Avenue at approximately 9:30 a.m. The caller stated a man was walking on the sidewalk at that location with a gun in his waistband and acting belligerent. Officer Kim was the first officer to arrive at the location and was approached by the subject who made the 911 call. The man immediately opened fire on Officer Kim, wounding him. He then struggled with Officer Kim and disarmed him.
The man then used Officer Kim's gun to shoot at a Hamilton County probation officer and a second Cincinnati police officer who responded to the scene. The second officer returned fire, fatally wounding the subject. Responding officers performed CPR on Officer Kim until medics arrived and transported him to the hospital. He succumbed to his wounds a short time later. It was later determined that the subject had intended to commit suicide by cop. Officer Kim had served with the Cincinnati Police Department for 27 years. He is survived by his wife and three sons.
Police Officer Daryle Holloway, New Orleans Police Department, La., 46, was shot and killed while transporting a prisoner to the Central Lockup at approximately 8 a.m.
The prisoner had been arrested for aggravated assault earlier during the previous shift. He had been handcuffed behind his back but managed to maneuver his arms to the front of his body. He then produced a handgun he had concealed on his person, crawled through the vehicle's partition, and began struggling with Officer Holloway. Officer Holloway was shot during the ensuing struggle, causing his vehicle to crash into a utility pole near the intersection of North Claiborne Avenue and Elysian Fields Avenue.
The subject fled on foot after the vehicle crashed and was captured the next day after a brief chase that ended near the intersection of Reynes Street and St. Claude Avenue. He was arrested the following morning and charged with first degree murder of a police officer, aggravated escape, and weapons charges.
Officer Holloway had served with the New Orleans Police Department for 22 years and was assigned to the 5th District.
Trooper Eric Chrisman, Kentucky State Police, Ky., 23, was killed in a vehicle crash on the US Route 62 near the Tennessee River Bridge in Livingston County at 5:48 p.m.
He was responding to a reckless driver complaint when his vehicle failed to negotiate a curve and crossed into the path of an oncoming tractor trailer. Trooper Chrisman's vehicle was struck on the driver's side, causing him to suffer fatal injuries.
Trooper Chrisman had served with the Kentucky State Police for only six months.
Sergeant Chris Kelley, Hutto Police Department, Texas, 37, was struck and killed by a subject who had just stolen a patrol car following a struggle as officers attempted to arrest him.
The subject had fled on foot after officers attempted to make a traffic stop on Herrera Trail at approximately 10 a.m. The man ran over a fire hydrant and then fled on foot. Sergeant Kelley located the man and began to struggle with him. The subject broke free, entered an unmarked patrol vehicle, and tried to drive away. He struck Sergeant Kelley and dragged him a short distance as he continued to flee.
The subject was arrested a short time later.
Sergeant Kelley was a U.S. Air Force veteran and had served with the Hutto Police Department for 11 years and was assigned as the Criminal Investigations Supervisor. He is survived by his wife and two young children.
Sergeant Korby Kennedy, San Angelo Police Department, Texas, was killed in a motorcycle crash on Knickerbocker Road, near Albert Street, while escorting a parade at approximately 6 p.m.
He and other officers were escorting a parade of boats for the upcoming San Angelo Drag Boat Races. He was traveling on Knickerbocker Road when a vehicle pulled out of a parking lot into his path. He was transported to Shannon Medical Center, where he succumbed to his injuries.
Police Officer David Nelson, Bakersfield Police Department, Calif., 26, was killed in a vehicle crash while involved in a vehicle pursuit at approximately 2:40 a.m.
The pursuit started when he attempted to conduct a traffic stop of an unlicensed vehicle. He chased the car for several blocks until his cruiser left the roadway and struck a retaining wall and a utility pole at the intersection of Mt. Vernon Avenue and Panorama Drive, causing the engine compartment to ignite. Responding officers located his vehicle and removed him from the wreckage before the patrol car became engulfed in flames.
He was transported to Kern Medical Center where he succumbed to his injuries a short time later.
The vehicle he was pursuing continued to flee. The driver was arrested the following day after police received an anonymous tip about the vehicle. The driver was arrested and charged with evading an officer resulting in injury or death, hit and run resulting in injury or death, obstructing arrest, felon in possession of a firearm, and other charges.
Officer Nelson had served with the Bakersfield Police Department for two years. He is survived by his parents and two brothers.
On behalf of Law Officer, our heartfelt condolences and prayers go out to the families, department’s and communities of all those affected by the deaths of these heroes behind the badge. We honor each of them here but we must ensure that the honor goes much further than words, ceremonies and vigils. We must honor our fallen by training the living and demanding change to our profession where we fall short in areas of safety. Those discussions do not diminish these ultimate sacrifices but rather these sacrifices embolden our discussions so that we can forever make our profession as safe as possible.