Another Law Enforcement Training Death

Police TrainingIn what has become an unbelievably hard circumstance to realize, another police officer has lost his life during a firearms training exercise.  On September 15, 2010, St. Joseph, Missouri police officer Dan DeKraai was killed in the line of duty while attending force-on-force training for the Department’s SWAT Team.  At the time of his death Officer DeKraai was a four year veteran of the St. Joseph Police Department and left behind a wife and daughter.

St. Joseph Police SWAT team members were engaged in a day of force-on-force training.  After completing the morning session two Team members left the training area to obtain beverages for the rest of the Team.  The officers getting the beverages armed themselves with their standard duty firearms while they were gone, in case they should come across a police call while on break.

It was reported that when the officers returned, everyone was still on break and relaxing and the returning officers (or at least shooter) did not download their live duty firearms.  When the break concluded a secondary check of personnel involved in the force-on-force training was apparently not completed.  In a tragic twist to this story, Officer DeKraai asked the shooting officer (one who had left for drinks) to shoot him in the back with a Simunition round because he had never been hit with one before and wanted to know what it felt like.

Apparently, without realizing his error, the shooting officer withdrew his duty firearm and shot Officer DeKraai in the center of the back.  It was reported that the round penetrated Officer DeKraai’s heart and killed him instantly.  Regardless of your opinion of the shooter, I’m sure he suffered a similar fate that day.

There may be some readers who might mistakenly believe that the shooter was some kind of “tool” that had no firearms safety sense or officer safety presence.  As mentioned this was a SWAT Team training cycle and as such represented some of the most dedicated and skilled officers on the St. Joseph Police Department.  Having had the opportunity to train with the St. Joseph SWAT team I can attest that they pride themselves on tactics, proficiency, and professionalism and have the skills to show it.

I researched the St. Joseph Police website and learned that the shooter has “served with the department since 2005, including time with the St. Joseph’s special response and hazardous-material teams. He was awarded the Medal of Valor earlier this year for his response to an armed standoff.”  I doubt a Medal of Valor recipient would fall into the category of “tool” or someone lacking commitment to excellence.

So what we’re left with is the terrible truth that a simple task was not completed, and a brother officer is no longer with us.  And the sad thing is that this very same omission has been done hundreds of times before and “but by the grace of God” we haven’t had more of these incidents.  As law enforcement officers we must always remember that it is often the little things that get us killed.  Missing a cue of oncoming assault, failing to wear body armor, allowing contact/cover to break down, being oblivious to furtive movements, and, as in this case, failing to ensure safety checks are completed – and double checked.

In a final note, Officer DeKraai’s wife asked the shooter to walk with her down the aisle at DeKraai’s funeral as a measure of forgiveness and unity.  Over 500 officers from across Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska attended Officer DeKraai’s funeral and the procession stretched for over two miles.  The people of St. Joseph came out throughout the funeral path.  Every vehicle stopped on major highways and city streets alike, something many large cities would not have seen.  Most of the drivers exited their cars to show respect.  People downtown held American flags, some saluted.  An entire soccer complex stopped their games and lined the roadway to pay respects to this fallen officer.  It was an amazing and powerful sight, but in the end this should not have happened, could not have happened, and must not happen again!

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Aaron is a sergeant with a midwestern police department, where he serves as a trainer, supervisor and SWAT sniper. In addition to his broad tactical knowledge, Aaron has experience in DUI, DRE and undercover narcotics investigations.