Officer Safety: Inside and Out
By Sgt. David J. Harris
As the FTO Coordinator for my agency, it has been quite some time since I had a Student Officer in my car. Recently that opportunity presented itself. I found myself recalling all of the skill sets required to an effective FTO. One thing that stood out to me is just how many things I need to know about the inside of the car-that has absolutely nothing to do with the Student Officer!
Permit me to explain. In my current assignment I am a Traffic (Motor) Sergeant. It has been a while since I sat in one of our patrol cars. Consider the MDC (Mobil Data Computer) and all that goes on with that, COBAN (in-car video system), cell phones, the radio control head and the even location of the gear shift. (Those who drive the Chevy Caprice know what I am talking about–yeah, I bet some of you expected to be going backwards and only saw the windshield wipers come on!) The point I am addressing here is dealing with distractions.
The three shifts I covered for one of my FTOs were very busy! I realized just how unfamiliar I was with this “new” equipment and how quickly distracted I became-inside the car.
How many collisions have you investigated where “inattention to driving” , “cell phone and/or texting” was the primary cause? Were you ever involved in one, or have a near miss? Think about it. A driver receives a phone call / text message, or enters an address in their GPS. Let’s say they spend 3 to 5 seconds reading the message. Traffic is moving slowly, nothing out of the usual, say 20 mph. Simple math tells us they are traveling 29 feet per second (it’s the traffic guy in me). So for those 3 to 5 seconds, they will have covered 87 to 145 feet without focusing on, or paying full attention to what is in front of them or next to them. I have seen this happen numerous times while right next to them on my motor! They had no idea I was even there.
Most of us are able to function in this very busy environment, and do so quite well. So my question is; how did we develop those skills and are we teaching officer safety “inside the car?”
We train our Student Officers to be prepared at all times and to develop a good sense for officer safety for situations that occur outside of the car. We need to focus some of our training time, on helping students develop officer safety skills when they are inside the car.
Officer safety skills inside the car include training in safe vehicle operation, the operation of different vehicle types, the distractions associated with the MDC, In-Car Video Systems, talking on the police radio, cell phone use, and seatbelt use.
During the National Conference held here in Washington, we did a tribute to the officers we have lost in the line of duty this past year. I was saddened by the numbers we lost as a result of vehicle operation. Simply emphasizing the importance of seatbelt use and driving the police vehicle at reasonable speeds can save many of our brothers and sisters nationwide.
It is not uncommon for us to tell each other, “be careful out there.” I am asking that we start being careful “in there.” Take the time to become fully acquainted with all of the equipment in your vehicle. Be confident in its operation, stress the importance of the utilization of seatbelts and of driving your vehicles at appropriate speeds, and please take the time to emphasize officer safety “inside” the car with your students!
As always I welcome your comments.
Sgt. David J. Harris
Lynnwood Police Department
Director WA -NAFTO