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IACP Quick Take: How Las Vegas Metro PD changed its officers’ driving habits and culture

Sergeant Lou Maldonado of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department spoke about how his agency changed the way its cops drive — from seatbelt use to speeds

Vehicle incidents are consistently the number one or number two cause of death for on-duty police officers. At the time of this writing, there have been a total of 100 LODDs in 2016. Of those, 15 were automobile collisions, seven were motorcycle crashes, five were struck-by incidents, three were vehicle pursuits, and ten were vehicle assaults. That’s a total of 40 vehicle- or roadway-related deaths. That’s a close second to gunfire deaths. To put this into perspective, the next leading cause of death is heart attack — there are six of those so far in 2016.

Lou Maldonado — Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department
Tracy Russillo — Virginia State Police
Paul Moore — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / NIOSH
Ronald Gibbons — Virginia Tech
Brian Montgomery — National Institute of Justice
Hope Tiesman — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / NIOSH

Quick Summary:
During IACP 2016, a wide-ranging panel discussion among the abovementioned subject matter experts covered topics such as how squad paint and reflective materials can affect drivers’ ability to see, slow down, and pull over for emergency vehicles on the roadside, as well as how the NIJ is working with NIOSH on other vehicle safety initiatives. One of the more compelling and immediately actionable topics covered, however, was when Sergeant Lou Maldonado of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department spoke about how his agency changed the way its officers drive — from seatbelt use to speeds.

In 2009, LVMPD suffered three vehicle-related line-of-duty deaths in one year. The agency immediately did some soul searching and research into what may have led to those losses of life.

“Back in 2009, we had to assess why these fatalities happened,” Sergeant Maldonado said. “We determined after a short study that the officers who were getting into the most wrecks were officers from one-to-five years on the job. We decided to look at our training, our policy, and more importantly, as you all know, we had to look at the culture of why police officers drive so fast.”

Maldonado said that one striking discovery from their analysis was that there were widespread problems with seatbelt use — or more accurately, lack of use.

“We did have a policy on it, and we still do, but the problem with our department was that only about 30 percent of officers were wearing seatbelts. We had seatbelt extenders that were afforded to us for ‘tactical seatbelting’ or for larger officers,” Maldonado said.

Officers on LVMPD were using those seatbelt extenders to stop the annoying chime that would occur when the seatbelt was not in use, effectively tricking the system. Sadly, two of the LVMPD officers killed in 2009 were not wearing seatbelts.

3 Key Takeaways:
1. To address the seatbelt issue, the agency removed the seatbelt extenders entirely — they were simply taken away. Further, the agency put teeth in its policy. Previously, an officer would simply get a “talking to” about wearing their belts. Moving forward, they would get written up.

“We always got the scolding, but until the officers actually started getting paper hung on them, that’s what actually made the difference,” Maldonado said.

The seatbelt rate for LVMPD is now nearly 100 percent usage.

2. The agency then turned an eye toward training. “The training was fine. We’re lucky because we’re afforded the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, so I have a fulltime staff of eight officers and we’re able to train on three different road courses and a very large pad,” Maldonado said.

Prior to 2009, officers had to undergo EVOC training every two years — detectives and others were required to train every three years. Following the department’s analysis, Maldonado and the team decided to have officers right out of the academy do the driver training once a year for three years.

“Seven years later, that has worked with our younger officers,” Maldonado said. “They’re not getting in the high-speed wrecks and we haven’t had a major-injury accident.”

Further, because two out of the three crashes in 2009 occurred at night, Maldonado added night training, which had the added benefit of expanding his cadre of instructors.

3. “The biggest change,” Maldonado said, “was the cultural change. It’s the culture in police work to go and help others, and we know that. We hired a marketing agency that made posters that we placed in all the substations. They made decals on vehicles that warned officers to belt up and drive safely.”

Maldonado said that the agency could really see a shift in the culture about two years into their effort to create meaningful change. Two years may seem like a long time, but in the grand scheme of things, the important thing is that the shift happened at all.

Memorable Quote:
Lou Maldonado: “If you don’t arrive, you can’t assist.”

Other Observations:
Maldonado and his training cadre have the pictures of all the agency’s vehicle-related LODDs on the wall of the training center. His rationale is that he wants to remind his students of what can happen when you don’t do things the right way on the road. Conversely, Maldonado also uses photos of officers who survived collisions because they were wearing their belts. These powerful images tell different stories, and officers are the authors of their own stories behind the wheel.

Doug Wyllie writes police training content on a wide range of topics and trends affecting the law enforcement community. Doug was a co-founder of the Policing Matters podcast and a longtime co-host of the program.