Final Tour: June 2016

How they died, trends for the year, & what you can do now

By Dale Stockton  |   Jul 1, 2016

Eleven officers died in the line of duty during the month of June, making this the deadliest June in the last four years.

The loss of these officers brings the number lost in 2016 to 51. Now halfway through 2016, this number is both tragic and encouraging. It’s tragic because there are 51 families and organizations which have lost a loved one and an officer. It’s difficult to even comprehend the magnitude of their loss and we must honor and remember each and every officer. At the same time, this is a noteworthy time in the history of law enforcement. The last time the LODD total at mid-year stood at 51 or less was 1959–well over half a century ago.

Our current level of loss is now 19% lower than this time last year and last year was relatively low when viewed historically. Vehicle-related deaths are now 15% lower than this time last year while gunfire deaths are running 31% ahead of the same time in 2015.

So far in 2016, 22 officers have died in vehicle-related incidents, 21 have been killed by assailant gunfire, four died as the result of a heart attack, one was lost in an aircraft crash, one was killed by accidental (friendly) gunfire, one died due to 9/11-related illness, and one succumbed to injuries after being thrown from a horse.

On behalf of everyone at Calibre Press, I extend the deepest condolences to those who have lost an officer. Listed in order of occurrence, following are summaries of the losses for June.

Sgt. Derrick Mingo, 35, Winnsboro (La.) Police Department, was killed in a single vehicle crash while responding to assist another officer who was involved in a vehicle pursuit. His patrol car left the roadway and struck a tree in the front yard of a home. Mingo, who was not wearing a seatbelt, suffered fatal injuries. Mingo had served with the Winnsboro PD for five years and had previously served with the Franklin Parish Sheriff’s Office for 12 years. He is survived by his wife.

Officer Verdell Smith, 46, Memphis (Tenn.) Police Department, was struck and killed by a vehicle whose driver had been involved in a triple shooting approximately 30 minutes earlier. The man, who had been seen talking to himself loudly, suddenly pulled out a handgun and shot two customers outside of a restaurant shortly before 10:00 p.m. Several citizens chased the man on foot to a store parking lot, where the man shot an employee and fled in a car as officers were arriving on scene. Officers pursued the vehicle, which started driving the wrong way down a street that had been closed for a street festival. Officers attempted to clear the street and sidewalks of pedestrians, but the vehicle crashed through a barrier and struck Smith. The driver was taken into custody at the scene. Smith had served with the Memphis Police Department for 18 years and is survived by his children and fiancé.

Officer Natasha Hunter, 32, New Orleans (La.) Police Department, succumbed to injuries sustained two days earlier when her cruiser was struck from behind by a drunk driver. Hunter was blocking traffic for another officer who was conducting an accident investigation when the drunk driver drove through cones and struck her cruiser. She was transported to a local hospital where she remained in grave condition until succumbing to her injuries. The driver of the vehicle that struck her was taken into custody. Hunter had served with the New Orleans PD for 11 years. She is survived by her 5-year-old daughter and two sisters. Both of her sisters serve in law enforcement in the New Orleans area.

Deportation Officer Brian Beliso, 34, U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, suffered a fatal heart attack during a foot pursuit of a fugitive in Redwood City, Calif. Other officers discovered him unconscious and immediately began CPR but were unsuccessful in reviving him. Beliso had served with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations for nine years. He is survived by his wife and three children.

Officer Endy Ekpanya, 30, Pearland (Texas) Police Department, was killed when his patrol car was struck by a drunk driver while he was responding to a non-emergency call. The other vehicle crossed over the center line at an intersection and struck Epankya’s patrol car head-on. Ekpanya was transported to a hospital where he died from his injuries. The driver of the other vehicle was charged with intoxicated manslaughter. Ekpanya had served with the Pearland Police Department for one year. He is survived by his 2-year-old son and fiancé.

Officer Michael Katherman, 34, San Jose (Calif.) Police Department, was killed in a motorcycle crash at approximately 4:20 p.m. He was on patrol when another vehicle turned left in front of him at an intersection, causing the collision. Witnesses to the crash performed CPR on Katherman and used his radio to call for assistance. He was transported to a medical center where he succumbed to his injuries. Katherman had served with the San Jose Police Department for 11 years. He is survived by his wife and two children.

Agent Gilberto Colón-Leon, 51, Puerto Rico Police Department, was shot and killed when he took action during a robbery attempt while off-duty at approximately 2:00 am. He was taking a friend home when multiple subjects approached them and attempted to rob them. Colón-Leon was shot multiple times when he drew his weapon. The subjects fled the scene after shooting him but were arrested approximately two weeks later and charged with murder. Colón-Leon had served with the Puerto Rico PD for almost 20 years and was assigned to the Highway Division. He is survived by his wife and two children.

Police Officer Zach Larnerd, 26, Gainesboro (Tenn.) Police Department, died as the result of injuries sustained in a vehicle crash that occurred on January 3, 2015. He was responding to a domestic violence call when his patrol car left the roadway and went down a 17-foot embankment as he attempted to negotiate a curve. The vehicle struck a tree and Officer Larnerd was trapped inside for two hours before rescue crews were able to extricate him and provide transport to a local hospital. Larnerd eventually returned to light duty but his health continued to suffer. More than a year after the crash, he passed away from complications related to the original injuries. Larnerd had served as a part-time officer with the Gainesboro PD and also served as a full-time deputy with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department. He had previously served with the Alleghany County, Va., Sheriff’s Office. He is survived by his father, who serves as the Gainesboro PD’s police chief.

Sergeant Stacey Baumgartner, 39, Patton Village (Texas) Police Department, was killed when his patrol car collided with another vehicle during a pursuit. He had been dispatched to a gas station on a report of a subject urinating in public and exposing himself. As he arrived on scene the man attempted to run him over and then fled at a high rate of speed. Baumgartner pursued and his patrol car was subsequently broadsided by an SUV at an intersection. The impact pushed Baumgartner’s patrol car into a light pole and caused the SUV to overturn. Baumgartner was transported to a hospital but later succumbed to his injuries. An 11-year-old child in the SUV was also killed and several occupants were injured in the crash. The driver of the vehicle that was fleeing returned to the scene of the crash where he was arrested. Baumgartner is survived by his wife and two children.

Deputy David Michel, 50, Jefferson Parish (La.) Sheriff’s Office, was shot and killed while making a subject stop in the town of Harvey. A struggle ensued during the stop and the subject was able to pull a handgun from his waistband. He opened fire on Deputy Michel, striking him several times. Michel was transported to a local hospital where he succumbed to his wounds. The subject fled the area on foot but was taken into custody a short time later. Michel had served with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office for nine years and was assigned to the Street Crimes Unit. He is survived by his wife.

Deputy Martin Tase Sturgill, 49, Humphreys County (Tenn.) Sheriff’s Office, suffered a fatal heart attack while he and other members of the Sheriff’s Office were developing a new physical assessment test for the department’s Emergency Response Team. He and other deputies had just completed a run at Waverly Central High School when he suddenly collapsed. Deputies and EMTs were unable to revive him. Sturgill had served with the Humphreys County Sheriff’s Office for 12 years. He is survived by his wife and four children.

An Overall Look at 2016

Six months of 2016 are now behind us and losses have continued to trend significantly lower than last year, despite an increased level of aggression directed at law enforcement. It’s definitely a tough time to be wearing a badge and the job is certainly not getting easier or safer.

Improved tactics, increased use of body armor, better emergency medical capabilities and the use of self/buddy treatment have all contributed to lowering our losses. Preventable line-of-duty deaths are trending downward, a positive sign that officers are taking increased responsibility for officer safety areas under their control. Nonetheless, we are still losing officers in single vehicle crashes that are speed related and in survivable crashes where they chose not to wear a seatbelt. This is an area that we can definitely improve. Like body armor, seatbelts work, but only if you wear them.

It’s worth mentioning again that the level of loss experienced thus far in 2016 is lower than the first six months of any year going back to 1959. This is remarkable progress and we should build upon it, refusing to accept any loss–even one–as normal or acceptable.

We must continue to objectively examine every critical incident involving death or serious injury and share the lessons learned to prevent a recurrence. This is especially true of trainers and supervisors. Following are some recommendations for continuing to improve overall officer safety.

High-Risk Activities: Several of the gunfire deaths during 2016, especially earlier in the year, involved high-risk activities like responding to a subject with a gun, warrant service, and taking a wanted felon into custody. Risk has always been a component of police work but some of these officers died in situations where there was (or should have been) some realization of potential danger before they were killed. Different tactics, better cover or slowing a situation down may have saved lives. This is not intended as second-guessing specific actions or decisions made by those who have fallen but rather to challenge all officers to take the appropriate and reasonable steps to increase their odds of winning deadly encounters.

Review Your Tactics: Consider using a passenger-side approach during traffic stops and continually maintain a contact-and-cover style of engagement when working with other officers. If you’re not familiar with contact-and-cover tactics, take the time to do a Google search. It’s time tested and it works.

Exercise caution when responding to in-progress incidents and tactically position yourself upon arrival to allow assessment before engagement whenever possible. Remember: Concealment is not cover and this is especially important when dealing with a subject who has a long gun.

Wear Your Body Armor: After a seat belt, body armor is probably the most important piece of safety equipment for police officers. There is no denying that today’s officers are operating in a very hostile environment and unprovoked assaults have become more frequent. Body armor should be mandatory for every uniformed officer, including administrators. This includes any time you are in uniform or driving a marked unit, even if you’re not on patrol.

The bad guys don’t know that you’re an administrator or on a training day. Body armor works, but only if you wear it.

What’s Important Now? There’s so much in our environment that competes for our attention that it’s easy to become distracted. The Below 100 tenet of WIN squarely targets situational awareness and prioritization. Officers must be fully aware of the evolving circumstances and continually reassess their situation. Thinking WIN can save your life.

Remember: Complacency Kills! When it comes to complacency, the reality is that complacency dramatically increases the danger of almost any police action or engagement and every officer must continually strive to maintain a degree of vigilance and readiness. Improved training and tactics are showing significant benefit, but complacency can turn any situation deadly in an instant.

Courageous Conversations: The Navy SEALS have a great saying, “Don’t run to your death.” Going into dangerous situations without adequate cover or engaging too quickly has been the story behind many police losses. If you know an officer who tends to push the envelope or take unnecessary chances, take the time to tell them that you care and that their family and department needs them. Point out that they’re actually endangering others who may have to come to their rescue. If they crash on their way to assist, they make the situation worse because they take resources away from the officer who originally called for help.

Confronting a fellow officer is never easy, but it’s far better than going to their funeral. Don’t wait because you may not get a second chance.

Fitness: Line-of-duty heart attacks have claimed the lives of four officers thus far in 2016 and 17 officers during 2015. Heart attacks continue to be the third leading cause of line-of-duty deaths for police officers. This is not an “old guy” problem. We’ve lost many officers in their twenties and thirties. Fitness has always been key to officer survival. Get your baselines (blood pressure, family history, cholesterol, etc.) and engage!

Honor the Fallen

Below 100 trainers believe the best way to honor our fallen is by training the living. The sad truth is that many of our losses, including some this past month, were preventable and, candidly, they just didn’t have to happen.

We all have a responsibility to improve officer safety, both individually and across the profession. We must learn from the terrible lessons of the past so that we don’t continue to repeat deadly mistakes. No line-of-duty death should ever be considered as acceptable or without consequence. The best way for us to honor our fallen is by training the living. Those who have given their lives would want nothing less.

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. Remember the tenets of Below 100.

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

Conclusion

For more information visit Below 100. Special thanks to the Officer Down Memorial Page for their assistance in providing line-of-duty death information that forms the basis for the Final Tour series.

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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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