This has been a sad week for Maine. Last Thursday, Hancock County Deputy Luke Gross died in the line of duty when he was struck by a vehicle at the scene of an accident.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected]

While finishing high school, my eldest, Eilon, was simultaneously enrolled in the law enforcement program run through the Hancock County Technical Center. He both respected and adored Deputy Gross. But then, everyone did.

Gross was more than an officer of the law – he represented all that is best in the notion of “to serve and protect.” A loving husband, a devoted father, Gross was described by many as “a big kid” and was a familiar presence at school and community events, often volunteering his time.

At the time of his death, Gross was working the scene of an accident. His vehicle was parked at the scene with lights flashing and he was wearing his reflective gear. He had followed the established protocols.

The driver who struck Gross is not expected to be charged. That would argue neither excessive speed nor substance use were involved.

While Maine has an overall enviable record for officer safety, “Gross is believed to be the 87th Maine law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty since the early 1800s,” according to WGME. The CDC reports that nationally, being struck by a vehicle made up a staggering 8% of all line-of-duty deaths between 2010 and 2019. Eight percent! That’s shocking.

More importantly, those deaths are officially deemed “preventable.”

To combat this, in 2013 the National Institute of Justice, “the research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice … dedicated to improving knowledge and understanding of crime and justice issues through science,” collaborated with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health on two projects that “investigate ways to improve officer safety on the roadways.”

This project spanned several years, examined specific case studies, and provided in-depth analysis of situational interactions, and yet the conclusion of the report is that “officers must remain vigilant” and “training is critical.” That’s it.

Granted, the report expounds upon those two themes, but not in any way that actually adds any additional information or practical suggestions. Frankly, given the number of officers killed, that seems reprehensible. Vigilance and training seem somewhat self-evident. What I would hope from a multi-year, national study would be actual changes to protocol that could save lives.

I don’t have the answers. This is not my field. Though, I confess, off the top of my head, perhaps providing additional staff to devote their full attention to managing traffic while officers work the scene or closing down the section of road completely while the scene is active seem like places to start?

As I said, I don’t know. But what I do know is that police officers deserve more than what that report delivered.

Deputy Gross’ loss is a devastating blow to his family, his community, our state. The legacy of his service will continue to impact every person he helped in his life, but he should have had more time. His death is a tragedy. We can honor his service by demanding better answers for his fellow officers, those who will show up to the next accident and place themselves in harm’s way.

Preventable deaths deserve to be prevented. Let’s demand a comprehensive review with specific procedural changes to save lives.

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