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Police driving: An important reminder about our behaviors

The unfortunate fact remains that many of our heroes in uniform are dying because of their actions behind the wheel

I have often said that I am so very grateful for the opportunity that I get to put my thoughts on paper and that someone actually reads those thoughts. I have literally met and communicated with thousands of law enforcement professionals through an opportunity that for some reason was offered to me. I understand, too, that there is a great responsibility with this opportunity.

That responsibility has often turned my thoughts into doubts and my doubts into guilt as I see line of duty deaths occur. Like many of you, I follow those deaths closely and I take each and every one of them personally.

Did I do enough?
Have I said the right things?
What can I do to prevent them in the future?

The Month of July 2012
These and countless other thoughts come and go, and last month my worst fears came true as I saw 11 law enforcement officers die from roadway incidents. In the same period, two officers succumbed to gunfire — and I am not diminishing those tragedies.

A 13-year trend of roadway incidents being the leading cause of LODDs was stopped in 2011 but it certainly appears that this trend has made a comeback in 2012. Not only was last month tragic but so far in 2012 there have been ten more officers killed involving vehicles than firearms.

What can be done? The only thing I know to do is to remind others what we must do to prevent this trend from continuing. I have covered much of what I will conclude with in the previous years I’ve had the privilege to write for Police1, but in light of what last month showed us, it bears a reminder.

Leaders Must Lead
I recently spoke to an EVOC Supervisor on the west coast and he was full of frustration.

“Travis, I just don’t understand why this isn’t a priority,” he exclaimed.

I’ve heard it for years and each year that passes makes it even more unbelievable. It is simply hard to believe that with the information we have today on LODDs that the leaders in our profession are not taking the necessary measures to make the job of their officers safer. It is as if they believe death is a part of doing business and that is an atrocious attitude.

Training works in regards to changing attitudes and behavior and without a doubt there are leaders right now making a decision to not train their officers in Emergency Vehicle Operations and I have a message for them...

Your actions are significantly impacting the safety of those that trust you to lead them into battle. If you have not encountered tragedy beyond comprehension then get’s coming...and the blame should lie squarely on you.

Not every chief or sheriff can be expected to do what Chief Duane Hampton has done. Hampton is the Hillsborough (N.C.) Police Chief and over the course of a year, I have personally seen him at two training events and he is working to obtain his EVO Instructor Certification. While Hampton is clearly different than most, his actions on this issue should tell others that they can do something about it.

Our Behavior Matters
We can’t stop at placing blame on those that lead us. The unfortunate fact remains that many of our heroes in uniform are dying because of their actions behind the wheel. It is clear that we will never eliminate every roadway related LODD but an honest assessment tells us that many can be prevented if we, as professionals, address how we are contributing to what has been the leading cause of LODDs for over a decade.

Speed — The very mention of telling cops to slow down brings a not so fun stream of e-mails that I wouldn’t want my mother to read but regardless we all know that too often, we drive well over the speed limit for no other reason than we can. We often make ourselves think the reason is valid but if we are truly honest about it, we rarely make any difference by driving at high speeds.

Should cops drive fast?

Of course there is a time this has to be done. There is a real reason why we have lights and siren but we must all recognize that high speeds bring an increased danger and with that danger there must be a reward. Approximately half of the officers that die in a vehicle do so in single vehicle collisions. While all of them have given the ultimate sacrifice and are no doubt true heroes, was the destination they were going worth dying for? Let us not get mad at the question but honest about the answer.

Seatbelts — If I told you that if our profession embraced one concept that was free of charge and took seconds a day that we would save the lives of countless officers a year, you would want to hear that concept.

Every cop I talk to knows this concept but we continue to see tragedy from the failure to wear seatbelts. While NHTSA stats show that 42 percent of officers since 2000 were killed behind the wheel were not wearing seatbelts, I have heard reports of that number being much higher in anonymous surveys in various departments. Whether it is fear of the ambush or a lack of comfort, we have heard all of the excuses and at the end of the year we continue to see what those excuses add up to...senseless tragedy.

Every department has a policy to wear seatbelts but what is the culture in that agency? Does the supervisor turn a blind eye? Does the FTO tell the rookie to not wear what that rookie has been told since he was born to wear? As trainers are we combating the myths associated with not wearing seatbelts? If you are reading this, it’s not too late and for the honor of those before us, let us embrace this concept now.

Intersections — We all know the famous saying by our friend J.D. Buck Savage of “Watch the Hands,“ but what if I told you that in law enforcement today there is something that has proven just as dangerous?

Intersections are clearly an enemy in waiting and as a profession we must take the four lanes of traffic just as serious as the hands of our suspect. The top priority in approaching any intersection is clearing that intersection and this priority must begin immediately.

I work graveyard and I see officers doing a great job of walking up on cars and “watching those hands” but I see a lesser emphasis on slowing and clearing those intersections lane by lane. There is no room for mistake here, and sadly, our profession has suffered the consequences.

What Next?
The Month of July 2012 is over and I’m glad. Thirteen heroes in uniform died. Some did everything they could to prevent what ultimately took their life and sadly some made a mistake and they paid a price that no one should have to pay.

The decision can be made right now to never repeat a July 2012.

The question is: will you make that decision?

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.