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Preventing Officer Fatalities by Better Understanding Specific Incidents

Date Published
July 11, 2017

In the decade between 2006 and 2015, the FBI reports that more law enforcement officers died in the line of duty as the result of traffic accidents than from felonious assaults with firearms.[1]

Understanding the circumstances behind line-of-duty deaths from vehicle crashes and roadside incidents is a critical step in reducing fatalities. The National Institute of Justice has teamed up with the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)[2] in a pilot program to investigate motor vehicle-related occupational fatalities of law enforcement officers in the U.S.

The goal of the program is to identify risk factors for fatal motor vehicle-related events and develop recommendations for preventing future fatalities and injuries. Following a fatal incident, agencies often make changes to policies, training, or tactics to address the cause of the incident. This program will not only give that agency greater insight into the event when deciding if changes are necessary, but also will spread the lessons learned to the broader law enforcement community.

Under this pilot, the investigation team analyzes both new incidents and incidents from the past year involving motor vehicle-related fatalities. The team selects cases that differ from previous investigations so that they can generate a broader set of lessons learned and to determine what types of incidents might generate the most useful information. The team then contacts the agency to determine if it is interested in participating in an investigation.

Once an agreement is reached between the agency and investigation team, investigators gather information through interviews and review available records to develop a description of the conditions and circumstances leading to the death or deaths. Participation in the investigation is voluntary, interviewees are not asked to sign any statements, and interviews are not recorded. The reports do not name the deceased officer, the law enforcement agency, or those interviewed.

The resulting report and recommendations are published on the NIOSH and NIJ websites and are accessible to law enforcement agencies across the U.S. with the goal of reducing law enforcement officer motor vehicle-related deaths.[3]

Each report will include summarized and detailed contributing factors and recommendations and an in-depth description of the incident. The reports also include a general overview of the agency involved, the training and experience of the officer involved, and road and weather conditions.

In a separate project, NIJ and NIOSH are working together to evaluate the effectiveness of a comprehensive motor-vehicle crash prevention program in a large metropolitan police department to reduce the incidence of motor-vehicle crashes and resulting injuries. Results from this research are expected in late 2017.

Learn more about NIOSH and all of its work addressing law enforcement officer motor vehicle safety.

Date Published: July 11, 2017