Public Sector Risk

Risk on the Thin Blue Line

Targeted killings of police officers are on the rise.
By: | June 6, 2017 • 6 min read

Police work is a risky job that is getting even more perilous.

The number of police officers shot and killed in the United States in 2016 increased by 64 (56 percent) over 2015, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

If that statistic seems startling, consider the number of ambush-style police killings in 2016 — 21 — the highest total in more than two decades.

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And that figure may well be surpassed in 2017, said Ken Wallentine, senior legal advisor for Lexipol, which provides best practice policy guidance to public safety agencies across the nation.

“Sadly, we are on track for another tragically record setting year,” with 17 targeted police officer killings already in 2017, said Wallentine, “and we’re not even half way through the year. I don’t remember ever seeing this before.”

Nancy Sylvester, managing director of Arthur J. Gallagher’s public sector practice is dismayed, but not surprised, by fatal gun attacks upon police.

“Is it increasing? Yes, and I’d never heard of that happening before. But now it’s expected.”

Barry Scott, risk manager for the City of Philadelphia said he’s trying not to be surprised, but instead to be aware about what’s going on.

“But certainly it’s an unusual phenomenon,” he said.

Build Trust, and Underwrite

The challenges facing public sector administrators charged with protecting police was part of Scott’s presentation at the RIMS conference in his city back in late April: police tactical awareness, officer mental health and well-being, police department support and training, “those were just some of the areas we talked about and it was very well received,” Scott said.

Fortunately, Scott was able to speak from a position of strength, having worked with the Philadelphia police department and its 6,300 police officers “to provide them with the tools they need to stay safe.”

Sensitivity training, de-escalation techniques and better ways of responding to the mentally ill underpin a new police culture. It’s also a culture where the mental and emotional well-being of officers is emphasized.

There were two targeted attacks resulting in injuries to Philadelphia police in 2016.  Philadelphia experienced just one police fatality by firearm since August 2012.

Unfortunately, the risk profile Philly’s police officers face from violence remains high, and much of this has to do with one word, Scott said: trust. It’s the one thing that keeps him busiest — building trust within the community while ensuring police have the tools needed to protect themselves along with the community.

“From a risk perspective, we’re working with the mayor’s office, city council and legislative offices to try and make sure the laws we have are ones that end up leaving us better protected.”

A case in point, Scott said, is last year’s DNC convention in Philadelphia. Laws were adjusted to make incidents associated with public demonstrations a lower-grade crime “so that we weren’t arresting a number of people during the convention who were just demonstrating and exercising their civil rights. That kind of step really takes away some opportunities for more violent or dangerous confrontation,” he said.

That didn’t stop the city from purchasing protester insurance for the convention. As Scott told a reporter last year, “We’re looking to protect the city’s financial resources for the taxpayers who have given us those dollars to steward. So if we are able to buy insurance to do that, then it’s a great deal.”

Mental Health: a Two-Way Street

For others, the main problems associated with violence against police aren’t legal or monetary, but cultural. Groups like Black Lives Matters leave cops “grappling with a conundrum,” said Wallentine: citizens want police officers to effectively police their communities and yet “are hyper-critical of us when we engage in policing.

“We are hyper-exposed to danger and one of the cultural artifacts is that some officers are saying, `If I don’t want to get into trouble, I shouldn’t do anything.’ ”

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Wallentine’s advice to police departments is to respond in a more nuanced fashion to the culture of caution that has always marked police work. That means creating an environment where police officers remain vigilant, but don’t over-read the clues in a domestic situation, for example (the most dangerous call for police), before that situation actually unfolds.

“We want officers to be careful, but we can’t have them behaving with hyper-vigilance and treating citizens as if they’re all the enemy. First off, that’s not so, and secondly, that’s not very effective policing.”

Sylvester agrees. Once a public sector risk manager, now a broker who gives advice to risk managers, she said the new catchphrase in police/community interactions is “managing crisis confrontation.”

Sensitivity training, de-escalation techniques and better ways of responding to the mentally ill underpin a new police culture. It’s also a culture where the mental and emotional well-being of officers is emphasized.

Sylvester said judging mental fitness for duty now occurs well before a raw recruit steps into a police car with an older, more experienced officer.

“Now, there’s a matrix test for the mental and emotional well-being of new recruits. Before, that would come later in their training; they’d `get around to it.’ They deal with that upfront now.”

Costs Count, Too

“Be careful out there!” That was the staff sergeant’s admonition to officers leaving the precinct on the hit TV show Hill Street Blues years ago. But it might just as easily come from the police department’s chief accountant. That’s because the number of officers heading out the door for some of Sylvester’s larger metropolitan clients have a hard time filling their full roster for law enforcement.

“Do more officers have to take more shifts and what does that do at the end of the day? But it also presents a different picture to the insurance underwriter.” Sylvester admits her clients “hate” her insurance application because it’s so long, including a liability costs review centered on a great many things, including training, dispatcher and police dog numbers, jail size, and hot pursuit policies.

Dale Stockton, executive director of Below 100, a national officer-safety initiative designed to reduce police line-of-duty deaths, underscores the dangers hot pursuits pose to police officers with a story: at the end of May, Bluefield, West Virginia’s Lieutenant Aaron Crook was killed when his patrol car in pursuit of a suspected drunk driver collided with another Bluefield Police Department patrol car and a West Virginia State Police patrol car.

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“The devastation,” said Stockton, “is as great to the family as when an officer is lost in gunfire incidents.” Nearly as sad, he added, vehicle crashes “are about as preventable as it gets.”

Stockton’s story is intended to make an even more sobering but largely unknown point: the risk posed by increased police shootings is far below that of police vehicle crashes.

The cost to law enforcement of police officer injury is also difficult to estimate, said Stockton, including life time medical, workers’ comp payments, and payments for pain and suffering. People remember media stories about police dying in a hail of bullets or high-profile vehicle crashes, he said. But there are plenty of additional costs that never make the pages of the newspaper.

David Godkin is a freelance magazine writer based in Toronto. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

In the Fast-Paced World of Retail, This Risk Manager Strives to Mitigate Risks Proactively and Keep Senior Leaders Informed

Janine Kral works to identify and mitigate risks, building strong partnerships with leaders and ensuring they see her as support rather than a blocker. 
By: | October 29, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My very first paid job was working on my uncle’s ranch in British Columbia in the summers. He had cattle, horses and grapes — an unusual combo. But my first real job out of college was as a multi-line claims adjuster at Liberty Mutual.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

Right out of college I applied for a job that turned out to be a claims adjuster at Liberty Mutual. I accepted because they were offering six weeks of training in Southern California, and at the time that sounded really fun. I spent about three years at Liberty Mutual and then I spent a short period of time at a smaller regional insurance company that hired me to start a workers’ compensation claims administration program.

I was hired at Nordstrom as the Washington Region Risk Manager, which was my first job in risk management. When I started at Nordstrom, the risk management department had about five people, and over the years it has grown to about 75. I’ve been vice president for 11 years.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

I would say that technology has probably been the biggest change. When I started many years ago, it was all paper and no RMIS.

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R&I: What risks does the retail industry face that are unique?

We deal with a lot of people — employees and customers. With physical brick and mortar settings, there are the unique exposures with people moving in and out in a public environment. And of course, with ecommerce, we have a lot of customer and employee data, which creates cyber risk — which is not necessarily a unique risk in today’s environment.

R&I: Can you describe your approach to working with senior leaders and front-line staff alike to further risk management initiatives?

It starts with keeping the pulse of what’s happening with the business. Retail moves really fast. In order to identify and mitigate risks proactively, we identify top risk areas and topics, and then we ensure that we have strong partnerships with the leaders responsible for those areas. Trust is critical, ensuring that leaders see us as a support rather than a blocker.

R&I: What role does technology play in your company’s approach to risk management?

Janine Kral, claims adjuster, Nordstrom

We have an internal risk management information system that all of our locations report events into — every type of incident is reported, whether insured or uninsured. Most of these events are managed internally by risk management, and our guidelines require that prevention be analyzed on each one. Having all event data in one system allows us to use the data for trending and also helps us better predict what may happen in the future, and who we need to work with to mitigate risks.

R&I: What advice might you give to students or other aspiring risk managers?

My son is a sophomore in college, and I tell him and his friends all the time not to rule out insurance as a career opportunity. My advice is to cast a wide net and do your homework. Research all the different types of opportunities. Read a lot — articles, industry magazines, LinkedIn. Be proactive and reach out to people you find interesting and ask them about their careers. Don’t be shy and wait for people and opportunities to come to you. Ask questions. Build networks. Be curious and keep an open mind.

R&I: What are your goals for the next five to 10 years of your career?

I have always been passionate about continuous improvement. I want to continue to find ways to add value to my company and to this industry.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

My favorite book is Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It’s a true story about a man who was in prison in Australia after being convicted of armed robbery, and he escaped to India. While in India, he passed himself off as a doctor in a slum. It’s a really interesting story, because this is a convicted criminal who ends up helping others. I am not always successful in getting others to read the book because it’s 1,000 pages and definitely a commitment.

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

Fiorella’s in Newton, Massachusetts. Great Italian food and a great overall experience.

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R&I: What is your favorite drink?

“Sister Carol.” I have no idea what is in it, and I can only get it at a local bar in Seattle. It’s green but it’s delicious.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

Skydiving. Not tandem and without any sort of communication from the ground. Scary standing on a wing of a plane, but very peaceful once the chute opened, slowly floating down by myself.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

I can’t think of one individual person. For me, the real heroes are people who have a positive attitude in the face of adversity. People who are resilient no matter what life brings them.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

It’s rewarding to help solve problems and help people. I am proud of the support that my team provides others. &




Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]