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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

The Profession

Curt Gross

This director of risk management sees cyber, IP and reputation risks as evolving threats, but more formal education may make emerging risk professionals better prepared.
By: | June 1, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My first non-professional job was working at Burger King in high school. I learned some valuable life lessons there.

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

After taking some accounting classes in high school, I originally thought I wanted to be an accountant. After working on a few Widgets Inc. projects in college, I figured out that wasn’t what I really wanted to do. Risk management found me. The rest is history. Looking back, I am pleased with how things worked out.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?

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I think we do a nice job on post graduate education. I think the ARM and CPCU designations give credibility to the profession. Plus, formal college risk management degrees are becoming more popular these days. I know The University of Akron just launched a new risk management bachelor’s program in the fall of 2017 within the business school.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

I think we could do a better job with streamlining certificates of insurance or, better yet, evaluating if they are even necessary. It just seems to me that there is a significant amount of time and expense around generating certificates. There has to be a more efficient way.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

Selfishly, I prefer a destination with a direct flight when possible. RIMS does a nice job of selecting various locations throughout the country. It is a big job to successfully pull off a conference of that size.

Curt Gross, Director of Risk Management, Parker Hannifin Corp.

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

Definitely the change in nontraditional property & casualty exposures such as intellectual property and reputational risk. Those exposures existed way back when but in different ways. As computer networks become more and more connected and news travels at a more rapid pace, it just amplifies these types of exposures. Sometimes we have to think like the perpetrator, which can be difficult to do.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

I hate to sound cliché — it’s quite the buzz these days — but I would have to say cyber. It’s such a complex risk involving nontraditional players and motives. Definitely a challenging exposure to get your arms around. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll really know the true exposure until there is more claim development.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

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Our captive insurance company. I’ve been fortunate to work for several companies with a captive, each one with a different operating objective. I view a captive as an essential tool for a successful risk management program.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

I can’t point to just one. I have and continue to be lucky to work for really good managers throughout my career. Each one has taken the time and interest to develop me as a professional. I certainly haven’t arrived yet and welcome feedback to continue to try to be the best I can be every day.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

I would like to think I have and continue to bring meaningful value to my company. However, I would have to say my family is my proudest accomplishment.

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

Favorite movie is definitely “Good Will Hunting.”

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

Tough question to narrow down. If my wife ran a restaurant, it would be hers. We try to have dinner as a family as much as possible. If I had to pick one restaurant though, I would say Fire Food & Drink in Cleveland, Ohio. Chef Katz is a culinary genius.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

The Grand Canyon. It is just so vast. A close second is Stonehenge.

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

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A few, actually. Up until a few years ago, I owned a sport bike (motorcycle). Of course, I wore the proper gear, took a safety course and read a motorcycle safety book. Also, I have taken a few laps in a NASCAR [race car] around Daytona International Speedway at 180 mph. Most recently, trying to ride my daughter’s skateboard.

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

The Dalai Lama. A world full of compassion, tolerance and patience and free of discrimination, racism and violence, while perhaps idealistic, sounds like a wonderful place to me.

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

I really enjoy the company I work for and my role, because I get the opportunity to work with various functions. For example, while mostly finance, I get to interact with legal, human resources, employee health and safety, to name a few.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

I asked my son. He said, “Risk management and insurance.” (He’s had the benefit of bring-your-kid-to-work day.)

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