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How to reduce roadway LODDs in 2015

As a police professional, you should make the decision now on what type of calls or responses you’re willing to place your life at extreme risk

As we approach the end of the year, it’s always a time that our profession looks at the previous year to determine what — if anything — can be done to provide a safer future. The recent tragedies in New York City have brought to light many of the dangers that await those in the law enforcement profession and while the general public may be more informed of these dangers, those of us wearing the badge have known tragedy for some time.

As has been the case for close to two decades, it appears that 2014 will once again reveal that our most deadly activity is roadway related. As I write this, 47 officers have been killed in the line of duty in roadway incidents and much of that is preventable. It would do us well to look at these tragedies from the previous 12 months in an effort to prevent similarities in the coming months.

The Officer Down Memorial Page has classified roadway incidents into five categories:

1. Automobile Accidents
Don’t let the title of this category fool you — there are rarely such things as “accidents” in our profession. Almost every tragedy has a cause and an effect. While the cause is not always our fault, we should certainly look at where we could see improved safety. Out of 26 “accidents” 19 involved just the police car — single vehicle collisions. Police1 was the first to discuss this troubling trend in 2008 and unfortunately it has continued since then. Of the deadly accidents from 2014, 73 percent consisted of just a police car, such as on January 27 when Hardeman (Tenn.) Deputy Eddie Hamer died in a single car crash responding to a call.

Response is another deadly trend; Covington (Ala.) Deputy William Kelley died in a crash responding to an accident with injuries this year, for example. Single car crashes and vehicle response deaths mean almost exclusively that we are driving at excessive speeds. While speed is sometimes necessary to do our job, we must place a tremendous emphasis on the decision to speed.

As a police professional, you should make the decision now on what type of calls or responses for which you are willing to place your life at extreme risk. Personally, I’ll do what it takes to help a fellow officer that may be in a fight for their life, but the shoplifting suspect or noise complaint can wait until I get there at a speed well under the limit. Ultimately, the decision is all of ours, and in light of past tragedies, the time is now to make those decisions.

2. Motorcycle Accidents
We lost three officers in 2014 to motorcycle accidents. One was a single cycle crash while another involved an intersection collision and the third was struck by a car. Riding a police motorcycle has always been a higher risk and I respect these officers immensely. There is no time on a motorcycle to daze off, get distracted, or lose focus.

I understand some of the advantages of utilizing motorcycles and I implore our agencies to have a similar understanding of the dangers. Training must be rigorous, constant, and varied. The selection process of riders should be stringent and a constant evaluation of safety must go on.

3. Struck By Vehicle
Three officers paid the ultimate sacrifice in 2014 being struck by vehicles. Two of them, such as Nashville Officer Michael Petrina, died at the scene of collision investigations. We spend more time in roadways working collisions than at any other time and we must be on high alert.

In recent years, we’ve seen a huge reduction in officer losses in this area. In years past it was not unusual to lose 12 or more officers being struck in the roadway but due to increased training and the mandatory requirement to wear ANSI Level II reflective vests on federally funded highways, we have made great strides. The requirement to wear those reflective vests in conducting roadway incident management should be expanded to all roadways and while the government will not be doing that, your agency can certainly mandate it.

If the highway requirement has improved this much, then wearing them on all roads will further enhance the safety of our officers.

4. Vehicle Pursuit
Five officers died in four vehicle pursuits in 2014. As in vehicle accidents, we continued to see the trend in single car crashes as two officers died when their car left the roadway and hit a tree. Burns Flat (Okla.) Officer Kristian Willhight and Washita (Okla.) Undersheriff Brian Beck both died when their vehicles collided while in response to a pursuit that had ended and a lack of seatbelt usage was cited in one of the deaths.

The lack of seatbelt usage in our profession has been well documented and it is time that we end this senseless tragedy. We haven’t had less than 100 officers killed in the line of duty in a year since 1943, but if we’d wear seatbelts, I’m convinced we would have seen that the last three years.

5. Vehicular Assault
We lost ten officers to vehicle assault in 2014 and this category is one of the most difficult to prevent. 40 percent of them involved a drunk or impaired driver and by the sheer millions of miles that police drive each year, we will encounter individuals that attempt to do us harm behind the wheel.

We owe our officers the best training possible that entails defensive driving techniques aimed at avoiding this very issue. It is troublesome to hear from so many officers that tell me the last time they had driver training was in the basic academy.

Our profession must do more if we want to reduce tragedies in the area of roadway line of duty deaths.

Officer Safety issues are of paramount importance to us. Armed with the knowledge that vehicles have killed officers in higher numbers than have firearms in recent few years, we have brought on a columnist who focuses on law enforcement driver training and safer pursuits.