Helping police officers survive in the line of duty

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) "How do we do a better job to police our communities? How we make sure that our officers are well-prepared and as safe as we can get them? Because their job is very dangerous," Montpelier Police Chief Anthony Facos said.

Surviving in the line of duty. That's one of the biggest issues being addressed by local, state, regional and national law enforcement at the FBI National Academy Association's annual conference in Burlington.

In Vermont, a total of 36 police officers have died on the job ever.

In New Hampshire, it's 50.

And in New York, it's more than 1,700. It is a much larger state with a lot more police officers. But when we focus on our region-- Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties-- seven have died.

When you look at the national picture, more than 100 police officers die every year in the line of duty. That number hasn't dipped below 100 since 1943.

"Below 100" is also the name of an organization dedicated to keeping cops alive. It presented at this conference.

It says in many cases, police officers can save themselves if they wear their seat belts, wear their bulletproof vests, watch their speed, focus on what's important in the moment to stay alive and not become complacent.

"A lot of times police officers get so caught up in the moment, they're so focused on the task at hand-- of getting to the call, saving the day-- that they forget to think about their own safety on the way there," said New York State Police Lt. Collin Davis, a Below 100 trainer.

"Sometimes it's hard to do that as a new cop, a new law enforcement officer because there's a lot of excitement, there's a lot of emotion going through somebody's head when they're responding to a call. There's uncomfortableness when you have to put a vest on and it's 95 degrees and you don't realize that wearing that vest is not just to save your life, it's to save your fellow officer's life or the public. You're no good if you're out of the fight, so to speak," New Hampshire State Police Maj. John Encarnacao said.

"Nationwide, an epidemic almost of police officers being ambushed while they're in their cars," Davis said. "So they get into this mentality that I have to be able to jump out of the car real quick if something happens or I don't want to be trapped by the seat belt and put at a disadvantage. While it could, statistically speaking you're a lot more likely to get hurt or killed in a crash because you're not wearing your seat belt."

Below 100 can't tell us exactly how many times officers died because they didn't do one of those things, but local law enforcement leaders say this is an eye-opener and game changer. And they will share this lifesaving lesson with their own troopers and officers.