Director's Corner: Keeping Officers Safe – We Rely on Officers to Keep Us Safe, and They Can Rely on Us

The National Institute of Justice’s Research Efforts Help Officers Rely on Their Equipment, Policies, and Procedures.

May 15, 2017

Our nation’s law enforcement officers are put in dangerous and stressful situations every day as they protect and serve their communities. Some of these dangers, such as gun violence, are obvious; whereas others, such as officer fatigue, are a hidden yet significant risk to an officer’s well-being.

As we pay tribute to our nation’s law enforcement officers during National Police Week, they can count on NIJ to continue to work on advancing initiatives that increase their safety and well-being.

This week is National Police Week, an opportunity to honor our law enforcement officers and pay tribute to the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.

As we count on law enforcement officers to protect our communities, law enforcement can count on the National Institute of Justice to provide them with information and tools grounded in leading research to best prepare them for the challenges they face.

At NIJ, we’ve worked to study and improve officer safety and performance on several fronts. For decades, we’ve been at the forefront of testing and developing protective equipment for officers. We’ve partnered with law enforcement and other first-responder agencies to increase safety for law enforcement as they perform their duties on the nation’s streets and highways. NIJ-funded research has also evaluated strategies to reduce officer fatigue and promote overall wellness.

Every year, law enforcement officers are saved by body armor that have been tested against the NIJ Standard. Our Standards and Testing Program fosters development of equipment standards and related conformity assessment programs that specifically address the needs of law enforcement, corrections, and other criminal justice agencies. While NIJ standards are voluntary, they are influential because they articulate best practice and help ensure to the degree possible that equipment is safe, reliable, and performs according to established minimum requirements.

Police work is inherently dangerous. Law enforcement officers face a constant threat of injury or even death when they confront suspects or respond to dangerous situations. We have developed a Safety, Health, and Wellness Strategic Research Plan to describe our current and future efforts to promote the safety, health, and wellness of officers and other individuals affected by, or employed within, the criminal justice system.

There are more than a million law enforcement officers in the U.S., and recent data indicates that suicide deaths are more common in the field of law enforcement than any other individual American workforce. Under the Safety, Health, and Wellness Plan, we are studying trauma and suicide affecting officers and other criminal justice employees.

In addition, over the past decade, traffic incidents have been the largest source of law enforcement line-of-duty injuries and deaths. Many of these deaths and injuries occur on the roadside as officers perform their duties. To address this issue, NIJ-supported researchers are evaluating the effect on safety of alternative police vehicle lighting, marking, and painting schemes. We also are working with law enforcement agencies to increase road safety for officers by applying location-based crime and traffic data to establish effective and efficient methods for deploying law enforcement and other resources to reduce crime, crashes, and traffic violations.

As we pay tribute to our nation’s law enforcement officers during National Police Week, they can count on NIJ to continue to work on advancing initiatives that increase their safety and well-being.

Howard Spivak, M.D.

Acting Director, National Institute of Justice

Date Created: May 15, 2017