Final Tour: October 2015

A summary of recent line-of-duty deaths and what can be done in the service of their memory

By Dale Stockton  |   Nov 3, 2015
Photo Dale Stockton

Our 2015 line-of-duty losses stand at 105 as we end the month of October. Of those, 42 have been lost in vehicle-related incidents, 32 to gunfire and 31 to other causes, the majority of which have been duty-related heart attacks or illness. We’re slightly lower (5%) than where we were at this time last year.

The summary of October losses will be followed by information on LODD trends that every officer and trainer should review. Each of you can make a difference in officer safety, both your own and that of others.

Details on October Losses
October saw a total of seven officers lost during October. Of those who died, three were lost as the result of vehicle crashes, three were killed by assailant gunfire and one died due to a duty-related illness. Listed in order of occurrence, following are the summaries of those who served their final tour during this past month.

Officer Tony Lossiah, 38, Cherokee Tribal Police (N.C.), succumbed to complications of an injury he suffered during a foot pursuit in Cherokee two months prior. He had suffered a torn muscle in his hip during the pursuit and the injury resulted in internal bleeding along with additional complications. He was transferred to a hospital in Asheville where he developed complications related to the original injury. He had served with the department for 17 years and is survived by his wife and five children.

Investigator Steve Sandberg, 60, Aitkin County Sheriff’s Office (Minn.), was shot and killed while guarding a prisoner at St. Cloud Hospital. The prisoner was in custody in connection with a domestic assault. At approximately 5:15 a.m. the subject attacked and disarmed Investigator Sandberg in the hospital room. The man then fatally shot Investigator Sandberg with the service weapon. The shooter was subdued by a deputy using a Taser and died a short time later from an unknown cause. Investigator Sandberg had served with the sheriff’s office for 24 years.

Officer Randolph Holder, 33, New York Police Department, was shot and killed while pursuing an armed subject. Officer Holder and his partner were patrolling an area of East Harlem when they responded to a report of shots fired. The officers contacted a robbery victim who told them that a male suspect had fired a gun and fled on a bicycle. The officers canvassed the area for the suspect and located him approximately 18 blocks away near a footbridge. Officer Holder and his partner pursued the suspect and a running gun battle ensued. Officer Holder was struck in the head during the gunfire exchange. He was transported to Harlem Hospital where he later died from his wound. The suspect, who had also sustained a gunshot wound, was located several blocks away by responding officers and taken into custody. Officer Holder had served with NYPD for five years. Both his father and grandfather had served as officers in his native Guyana.

Park Ranger Jimmy Wallen, 54, Hamilton County Parks and Recreation (Tenn.) succumbed to injuries sustained in 1989 when the patrol car he and his partner were in was struck by another vehicle on Amnicola Highway as they pulled out of the Hamilton County Riverpark. He was resuscitated by rescue personnel at the scene and transported to a local hospital. He suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of the crash and remained in intense nursing care until passing away from complications of the original injuries. He is survived by his wife.

Deputy Constable Jeffrey Radford, 69, Bell County (Texas), Precinct 3, was killed in a vehicle crash in Temple, shortly before 7:00 p.m. He had just returned to Temple after serving papers in the town of Troy. His department vehicle collided with another car and a preliminary investigation by Temple PD showed he had failed to yield the right of way at an intersection. He was transported to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries. Two occupants in the other vehicle sustained non-life-threatening injuries. Deputy Radford had served with the Precinct 3 Constable’s Office for two years.

Officer Dan Webster, 47, Albuquerque (N.M.) Police Department, succumbed to gunshot wounds sustained eight days earlier while making a traffic stop. He had stopped a motorcycle that was displaying a stolen license plate at approximately 8:00 p.m. Officer Webster had placed one handcuff on the subject’s left wrist when the man pretended to be injured by complaining that his right shoulder was hurt. The subject then reached for a concealed handgun and opened fire on Webster, striking him in the face, chest and arm. The suspect, who had a prior manslaughter conviction, was contained within a perimeter by responding officers and subsequently arrested. Officer Webster was transported to a local hospital where he remained on life support until succumbing to his wounds. He had served with Albuquerque PD for eight years.

Sergeant Karl Keesee, 49, Texas Department of Public Safety, was killed in a single vehicle crash on U.S. 84, approximately two miles west of Goldthwaite, Texas. His patrol car went over a guardrail and into a creek bed. A passing motorist reported debris on the roadway at approximately 11:25 p.m. and that led to the discovery of the crash. The exact time and cause of the crash are under investigation. Sergeant Keesee had served with the department for 25 years.

Lessons Learned

We owe it to the fallen to review every LODD and look for lessons that can be passed on to the officers who serve in their memory. This is especially important for trainers and FTOs. With ten months of 2015 now behind us, here are some important observations on the trends that we’re seeing this year.

Vehicle-related deaths continue to be the leading cause of death for police officers. So far this year 42 officers have died in vehicle-related incidents (three of these were motor officers and one was on an ATV). That’s an increase (5%) over this same time last year and significantly greater than our losses due to gunfire. Vehicle operations are an area where we can definitely improve officer safety.

We lose far too many officers to single-vehicle crashes where speed is the primary collision factor. Sadly, one of the three crash-related deaths this past month was single vehicle, and the other two were related to crashes where the police vehicle appears to have been at fault in the crash.

The specifics of the single vehicle crash this past month are not known but the most common element in single-vehicle crashes is an officer rushing to aid another officer or cover on a call. Remember: You can’t help if you don’t get there and you actually make the situation worse if you crash because you pull away needed resources!

Many of our deaths this past year occurred in crashes where the officer would have survived if only he or she had been wearing a seatbelt, the most basic piece of safety equipment. Now is the time to have that courageous conversation with fellow officers who you know drive at speeds that are unsafe or drive without their seatbelt. Tell them that you care and that their family and department need them.

Gunfire deaths remain significantly lower than what we’ve seen over the past several years despite a recent surge in unprovoked attacks. Overall, losses from gunfire are down 20% compared to this same time last year and last year was relatively low when viewed long term. However, the general tenor towards police officers continues to be hostile and assaults have been frequent. Increased vigilance should be a given.

Line-of-duty heart attacks have now taken 16 of our fellow officers during 2015. This is more than twice the number of officers killed in ambush shootings this year. The youngest was only 23, another was only 26 and eight of the fallen officers were in their 40s. The oldest thus far has been 55. This deadly trend should be of great concern to all—heart attacks have consistently been the third-leading cause of death for police officers. It’s time to acknowledge this reality and to become proactive.

No one has more control over your health than you. At a minimum, know your blood pressure, your cholesterol level, your body mass index and your family history—then do something about it! This is another area where a courageous conversation can make a difference. It’s a tough one but could save a life.

Officer-Safety Basics

Lessons from our losses this month include maintaining proper control over detained suspects. Improved tactics are showing benefit but complacency can turn any situation deadly in an instant. Suspect control is paramount and proper search and handcuffing techniques are key to maintaining the upper hand in close-quarters situations.

Officers should consider using a passenger-side approach during traffic stops and continually maintain a “contact and cover” approach when working with other officers.

The ability to self- or buddy-treat gunfire wounds is making a huge difference and many officers are alive today because of a tourniquet. Every officer should carry one, have it immediately accessible and know how to use it. Remember: Your safety equipment, body armor, seatbelts and reflective gear will only work if you have them.

Below 100

None of those lost during 2015 reported for work with the knowledge that it would be their final tour. For many, the deaths could easily have been prevented. It’s clear that we can dramatically improve officer safety by simply exercising common sense. That’s the cornerstone principle of Below 100.

Below 100 is not about a specific number. It’s about every officer taking individual and collective responsibility for officer safety. We must continually challenge ourselves to learn from our losses and prevent future tragedies. And we must have the courage to speak up and engage other officers when their actions are putting themselves or others at risk. Courageous conversations with those who take unnecessary chances are key to improving officer safety. Confronting a fellow officer is never easy but it’s far better than going to their funeral.

Remember the tenets of Below 100:

  • Wear your seatbelt.
  • Wear your vest.
  • Watch your speed.
  • WIN – What’s Important Now?
  • Remember: Complacency Kills!

Special thanks to the Officer Down Memorial Page for their assistance. For more information on Below 100, check out www.Below100.org

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Dale Stockton
Dale Stockton is the former editor in chief of Law Officer magazine, and a 32-year-veteran of law enforcement. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, the California Supervisory Leadership Institute, the FBI Southwest Command College and holds a graduate degree from the University of California School of Criminology, Law and Society. He has served as a Commissioner for California POST, the agency responsible for all California policing standards. Stockton has been nationally recognized as the most widely published public safety photographer and writer in the country and taught college level criminal justice classes for 20 years. He has presented nationally at conferences in partnership with the National Institute of Justice and International Association of Chiefs of Police. Stockton is a founder, core instructor and current board member of Below 100. You can follow him on Twitter @DaleStockton.
Dale Stockton

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