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5 things to improve squad car safety

Our profession has done a terrible job regarding car interior safety, and we need to remedy it

If you are a firefighter, your work vehicle has been especially designed for the work that you do. The same is true for paramedic trucks, military vehicles, shipping companies and just about every other profession out there. Police officers are the exception to that rule.

A standard police vehicle with a ‘police package’ has a more durable suspension and brakes than versions of those cars at the car dealership selling those models. Further, lots of police-specific equipment is added.

A typical agency can — and will — add just about any aftermarket equipment available from hundreds of different manufacturers. The vehicle tests — including crash data — were all done without this added equipment, and thus don’t truly reflect the patrol vehicle’s safety as it actually exists out there on the road. We need to remedy this.

Hard Truths
Other than Ford, Chevy, or Dodge, it is safe to say that the final product that two different departments place on the street will never be the exact same. Carbon Motors attempted to manufacture a car just for law enforcement — and had they been successful, many of our concerns may have been solved — but ultimately the high cost of production and department budgets left a good idea on paper.

Economics indeed is a priority and it will always be cheaper to take an existing civilian car, add a few features and sell to law enforcement. I’m confident none of this will change,so it’s time our profession adjusts our behavior so we are placing the safest vehicle we can in the hands of our heroes.

We all have a similar story: My friend has $30,000 of new teeth thanks to a radar device mounted with Velcro. It could have been worse and I fear it has been worse. I was contacted several years ago from the wife of an officer. Her husband had suffered a traumatic brain injury due to police equipment in a car. He could no longer work or function by himself. His wife was left with questions and unfortunately I had no answers.

Our profession has done a terrible job regarding car interior safety. We’ve suffered injuries — and likely deaths — because of this and we don’t discuss it. Maybe we don’t have the discussion because we don’t see viable alternatives but it has to start somewhere.

To begin the discussion I reached out to Lt. David “Doc” Halliday — who supervised Michigan State Police vehicle testing for more than two decades — prior to retiring recently after 36 years of service. Halliday clearly understands this as a huge issue and emphatically told me that “anytime we add anything to the car you decrease the safety of the vehicle.”

Here are six ways we can immediately make the interior of our police cars safer.

1. Limit Equipment: This will definitely not be a popular step but if we truly want a safer vehicle, the issue becomes what is absolutely necessary inside the vehicle. Even a radio microphone could potentially be unsafe but we absolutely need that inside the car. If something is inside your car and you haven’t used it in six months then get it out. We need to get back to what is necessary to do our job.

2. “What If” the Inside the Car: On a daily basis, we should look at the contents of our car and think what would happen in a collision. How will that metal ticket book feel hitting me at 60 mph? Could it cause serious injury or death at collision speeds?

If the answer is yes, we need to secure it — and do so using a hard mount when needed. Equipment no doubt will need to be placed inside police vehicles but when it does, Velcro is the enemy and mounting with hardware is a necessity.

3. If You Cannot Secure, Then Relocate Loose Items: If the item isn’t critical and timely, it should go where it can’t hurt you…in the trunk.

4. Wear a Seatbelt: Unfortunately we can’t assume this is being done in our profession. With studies suggesting that half of our officers in fatality crashes were not wearing a seatbelt, we need to also understand that the seatbelt is designed to keep you in the seat and the way to keep mounted equipment away from you in a crash is to stay in your seat. A seatbelt is the only way to ensure this.

5. Integrate Equipment: We need to work on integrating our equipment into our car versus mounting the equipment. Havis has been leading the way on this and their computer screen configurations are being tested in agencies across the country.

Cost has no doubt been an issue on why we haven’t done this sooner but it is time for costs to take a back seat to safety.

Getting the Conversation Started
The United States Military and the National Football League are two organizations that have studied the effects of Brain Trauma and it is time that law enforcement does the same. Currently, we have no idea of how many officers are affected and what caused the injury. To improve safety we have to know this information and it has to start now. Do you have any ideas or suggestions? Let’s make it happen and together we can work towards a safer profession.

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.