- Associated Press - Sunday, December 13, 2015

ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) - Katherine Holtzleiter nodded her head in agreement as Lt. John Bennett of the Charleston, Illinois, Police Department explained why it’s important to fasten their seat belts, wear their Kevlar vests and take extra precautions on the road.

But unlike most of the 20 uniformed men and women surrounding her in the training room at the Anderson Police Department, Holtzleiter was not a law enforcement officer. She was there at the encouragement of organizers to support her husband, Steve Holtzleiter, a retired Anderson police officer who now serves as an officer at Anderson University, in his Below 100 training.

The training is part of the national Below 100 program started in 2010 by contributors to Law Officer Magazine in an effort to reduce the annual number of law enforcement deaths nationwide. According to the Below 100 website, the number of deaths in the line of duty has not been below 100 since 1943.

“I am highly invested. I have family and extended family who are in law enforcement,” Katherine Holtzleiter said. In addition to her husband, they include their son Eric Holtzleiter, an officer with the Anderson Police Department, and two cousins.

“I know what it’s like to sit at home and wait,” the retired probation officer continued. “Being the family of a first responder is hard because you never know what is going to happen that day.”



Nationally, the number of deaths among law enforcement officers has averaged about 150 annually, according to the Below 100 website. The all-time high was in 1974 when 278 officers were killed in the line of duty.

Dozens of officers from eight local departments took part in the local Below 100 training, organized by the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, on their own time. Officers and their family members had the option of attending one of three four-hour training sessions.

To drive home the message, the training included graphic videos of officers being injured by cars whizzing by during routine traffic stops and scenes showing the blood spatter and bullet holes in a windshield of a patrol car in which an officer was shot.

Aside from the obvious, Bennett stressed, the death or injury of a law enforcement officer can have effects on their families they did not anticipate. For instance, insurance companies may be unwilling to pay benefits to families if their loved one fails to wear safety gear, assigning part of the blame for the death or injury to the officer.

Sheriff Scott C. Mellinger said he became acquainted with the Below 100 program earlier this year when he saw a shorter version of the presentation at an Indiana sheriffs conference.

“I made the commitment in my own mind to bring them to Madison County,” he said.

Mellinger said it was important to invite the family members because even though many officers follow the rules and exercise common sense, many take unnecessary risks.

“For some people, it’s their loved ones who will help them think about safety,” he said.

The five tenets

Below 100 encourages law enforcement officers to adopt the following five recommendations to improve their safety:

1. Wear your seat belt: According to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, about 39 percent of officers killed in vehicle collisions since 1996 were not wearing their seat belt. About 42 percent of fatal law enforcement vehicle collisions involved a single-vehicle crash striking a fixed object off the roadway.

2. Wear your vest: Body armor can be hot and uncomfortable, but Lt. John Bennett of the Charleston, Illinois, police department said 12 percent of officers died in ambushes in the 1990s, compared to 21 percent now.

3. Watch your speed: The nature of law enforcement means sometimes putting pedal to the metal in a high-speed chase or to arrive at an emergency. But with a little caution, officers can prevent themselves from becoming an emergency.

4. What’s important now? Asking this question helps keep an eye on an officer’s current and future priorities.

5. Complacency kills: Letting your guard down can lead to unintended consequences.

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Source: The Herald Bulletin, https://bit.ly/1SRhlF5

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Information from: The Herald Bulletin, https://www.theheraldbulletin.com

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