A study published last year by California’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training estimated that 50 percent of law enforcement officers don’t wear seat belts. In fact, not wearing a seatbelt has been the leading cause of officer deaths for 14 of the last 15 years – more than firearms and assaults combined.
Half of all police officers killed in an automobile accident were not wearing seat belts.
“We are told early in our careers, usually from an FTO or other senior officer, that the most important thing you will do during your shift is to make sure you go home when it is over,” says Chief Tim Weitzel with the Lower Burrell Police Department.
Weitzel signed his department up for the Below 100 initiative, a campaign to reduce line of duty deaths to below 100 a year. As part of the initiative, Weitzel instituted a seat belt policy within his department as part of the five tenants of the Below 100 campaign.
He didn’t stop there.
“It is not the department that puts on a seat belt, it is the individual officer that does,” says Weitzel. “Don’t just make enforcing seat belt usage a paper policy. Stay vigilant when it comes to keeping on your officers or your staff about seat belt usage. Tell them flat out what the rule is and more importantly what your expectations for them are. Call them out on it when you see they are not wearing it and make sure you put yourself in a position regularly to see if they are wearing it.”
Weitzel states that he has had to call out both senior and junior officers for not wearing their seat belts, and that with continued focus on the issue, his officers are now compliant with the policy.
“In the end if it gets them wearing the seat belt and keeps them safe then it is a win I will take no matter what motivates them to act.”
VML Insurance Programs Law Enforcement Specialist Thomas Bullock can provide training and assistance for your agency in developing seat belt policies, procedures and awareness campaigns. For more information contact him at (800) 963-6800.
Below 100: The Five Tenants
- Wear Your Belt: It might sound simple to you, even unnecessary, but the truth is too many agencies don’t mandate belt wear. And even among those that do, many officers ignore policy because the culture doesn’t value it. The truth: Seat belts save lives.
- Wear Your Vest: We know vests save lives. We know that bullets can fly when we least expect it. Add to that the fact that body armor can improve your likelihood of surviving a car accident or other traumatic event and you quickly see why you must wear it. Always. Period.
- Watch Your Speed
Why do cops drive fast? Because they can, right? Well, driving faster than what conditions warrant is a sure way to get in trouble. Of course there are times when getting on scene quickly is critical. But these times are rare. Too often, officers are speeding—just because they can. In the process, they are putting themselves and the public at perilous risk for no good reason.
- WIN—What’s Important Now?
It’s a simple question that can elicit profound results. It’s a question that will lead to deliberate action, not reaction. If you are constantly prioritizing what’s most important, you won’t have time for the distractions that can get you in trouble, hurt or killed.
- Remember: Complacency Kills!
Chief Jeff Chudwin perhaps said it best: “Complacency is among the most dangerous and insidious threats we face because it lays us open to all others.” Complacency is why police officers think they can go without vest and seat belts. It’s why they think they can speed and allow themselves to be distracted. To quote Chief Chudwin again: “Complacency will kill you.”
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