Thursday, November 24, 2005


Just got the word that in fiscal 2004 we had 112 incidents of staff assault in our system. We have a relatively small system, with beds for 2000 criminals and about 400 officers spread over three shifts and "special assignments"- working desk jobs, transports or Court Services.

Don't have the statistics for how serious they were, but a few years ago the union kept track and recorded 37 officers sent to the hospital in one year.

Statistics are fun to play with- one officer in four was attacked, one in ten hospitalized; an attack happens every third day, a hospitalization every ten...

But statistics are bullshit. Each one has a name, a family and a story.

I'm not going to go into some sob story and start whining. We spend eight hours a day dealing with criminals. The only perfectly safe way to do the job is to NOT do the job, find one of those 'special' jobs at a desk and try to ride out your career as far from the criminals as you can get. We chose this job and most do it well and professionally.

We are the epitomy of the "kindler, gentler" corrections. We are trained to talk and rewarded for skills in preventing incidents. Ten years ago, there were about a dozen staff assaults a year and they were more serious- generally the officer would be hospitalized and if he was, it was a sure bet the inmate would be also. Now, even with one of our own down, the uses of force tend to be professional and the inmate is rarely hurt.

Twelve versus a hundred twelve. Heavy handed vs. kindler and gentler. A correlation? Nah. Statistics are bullshit.

The training unit seems to be the only group stepping up to do something about this increase. We've been designing "defensive tactics" around counter-assault and ambush survival concepts. Firearms has changed from just qualifying to actually training. Simulation training has stepped up to bring Use of Force concepts into real time, speed-of-life usefulness. Classes are offered on mindset and hostage survival (But the class on emotional survival was the most popular). The tactical team, too, has been making very deliberate advances in training, transforming from a cell-extraction team to a full-service operational and hostage rescue team.

The rest of the agency seems oblivious. As long as you are careful to think of them as numbers, as long as you keep telling yourself that statistics are bullshit, as long as the only line staff you talk to are the people hiding in the desk jobs as far away from criminals as they can get.. you can believe that all is well. That nothing has changed.

You see, it's only a body count if you count them. Or if they count.

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