Too many cops are dying in single-vehicle accidents
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, the majority (seven of 10) vehicle accident deaths thus far in 2017 were single-vehicle collisions — this must end
On Tuesday, April 11, 2017, Trooper Anthony Borostowski of the Wisconsin State Patrol was killed in a single-vehicle crash when his patrol car left the roadway and struck a tree. The day before that, Lowndes County (Alabama) Sheriff’s Deputy Levy Pettway was killed in a single-vehicle crash when his patrol vehicle left the roadway and struck several trees.
According to reports, Pettway was not wearing his seatbelt. There is no publicly available information that confirms whether or not Trooper Borostowski was wearing his seatbelt.
Unknown in both cases is whether or not excessive speed played a part in these recent tragedies. Also unknown, at present, is whether or not weather was a factor.
What is known is that too many police officers are killed every year by trees, phone poles and other stationary objects beside our nation’s roadways.
Indeed, at the time of this writing, ODMP reports that 10 officers have been killed in vehicle accidents of patrol vehicles in 2017. Briefly researching the ODMP posts reveals that the majority (seven of 10) of these deaths were single-vehicle collisions.
This madness must end.
Changing the culture of the profession
There have been precisely 100 days between January 1 to April 11, 2017, and 10 cops have been killed in vehicle collisions in that period. The math is simultaneously simplistic and incomprehensible. We’ve lost one officer per 10 days due to vehicle collisions.
Perhaps these awful losses suffered in the past several days can be an impetus for law enforcement professionals to reflect on ways in which similar tragedies can be averted in the future. For me, one of the first things to come to mind is to revisit the concepts taught in the Below 100 program.
Recall that two of the five tenets of the Below 100 program (wear your seatbelt and watch your speed) specifically address safety behind the wheel, and two others (remember “What’s important now?” and that complacency kills) tangentially touch on vehicle incidents.
For the record, the fifth tenet is to wear your vest. This is not just about your body armor — it also includes the reflective vest that can keep you alive while outside of your vehicle on the roadways. So to an extent, the entire program takes into account the dangers cops face on the road.
Below 100 is not “high-speed, low-drag” training. It is sober and simple. It is about decisions. Wearing your vest is a decision. Wearing your belt is a decision. Watching your speed is a decision. Asking “What’s important now?” is a decision. Being vigilant and not complacent — a decision!
Every officer in America should receive Below 100 training, but not every agency has the resources to make that happen. In any event, individual cops can become familiar with the five tenets (quickly, easily, and free of charge) by clicking here or here or here.
In addition — and something of an extension of Below 100 — more emphasis needs to be placed on decision-making in EVOC training.
There have been some truly awesome safety enhancements made to the modern patrol vehicle — everything from anti-lock braking systems to airbags — but the most important safety device in any police car resides between the ears of the vehicle’s driver. Having the physical skills to push a vehicle into the red on the tachometer is useless unless you also have the ability to make safe and sound decisions when running code three.
Furthermore, the decision to run code three at all should be weighed on every call. Running with lights and sirens not only increases the adrenaline of the officer, but it makes other drivers around him or her do some really whacky and unpredictable things.
Finally, police trainers need to help officers better understand the dangers they face behind the wheel. Many officers believe that the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths for police officers is feloniously killed with a firearm, but for most years that hasn’t been the case for more than 20 years.
Let there be no confusion: the risk of being fatally and feloniously attacked by a dangerous subject is real — and is perhaps even on the rise. However, the automobile remains a deadly adversary — and is perhaps the most dangerous cops face on a daily basis.
Changing the future of the statistics
According to ODMP, auto-related deaths are up a whopping 45 percent this year. This statistic includes incidents outside of the single-vehicle variety (struck-by and vehicle assaults), but it is still alarming. The good news — and it’s a struggle to find any good news here — is that we’re only in the middle of April, and there is still time to reverse this trend over the next seven and a half months.
We need to remind our colleagues that in order to be of any assistance at any call the first order of business is to arrive alive. Wrapping your squad around a tree is not a very good strategy to achieve that objective.
My brothers and sisters, please wear your belt, watch your speed, remember WIN, and don’t allow complacency to creep into your day-to-day.