By Travis Yates, Police Driving International
That was the quote from Kansas City Police Chief Jim Corwin when asked about officers on his agency refusing to wear their safety belt.
Corwin and police leaders across the country are fighting one of the most troubling trends we have seen in a profession in decades. Officers that enforce the law are admittedly refusing to follow the law by not wearing a seatbelt.
Chief Corwin has limited the workers compensation benefits from Officer Serge Grinik following a December collision where Officer Grinik was not wearing a seatbelt and his statements show that there will be more work to be done. The statistics show that we all have work to do.
A January 2011 report by NHTSA reveals that 42% of the officers that died in a collision in the last 30 years were not wearing seatbelts. Imagine the hundreds of families that would still have their mom, dad, son or daughter if something as simple as clicking a seatbelt had been done? Despite this, officers in Kansas City and across the country are refusing to wear the most basic of all safety devices.
The excuses are the same as when my field training officer told me to take my seatbelt off over 17 years ago. We could be ambushed by an assailant or we may have to exit the car quickly.
It is clear that police funerals and even benefits being cut will not diminish this troubling trend so what are leaders to do?
Identify The Problem
Chief Jim Corwin has joined other leaders like Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Sheriff Doug Gillespie and they now know the problem. Granted, it’s a problem that is difficult to believe but once known, swift action must be taken. Fortunately, Chief Corwin will not have to bury an officer to realize the issue but Sheriff Gillespie was not as fortunate. Following the deaths of three police officers in a seven month stretch in 2009, Gillespie’s actions were quick and decisive. He set in motion a regimen for driver training along with a proactive approach to address officers and driving speed and a lack of seatbelt usage.
The excuses for not wearing a seatbelt are just that…excuses. The hard truth is an officer that decides to not wear a seatbelt is not doing it for safety reasons. They do it because “they can” and it is the job of all of us to make sure they “can’t”. After all, seatbelts can be placed under a holster where a gun can be accessed and with just a little practice and initial belt placement they can be taken off very quickly. Training is important not only to show officers that there are ways to wear a seatbelt properly but it is essential in shifting the culture that is contributing to vehicles being the leading cause of death for law enforcement in the last 13 years.
If an ambush is a concern then vehicle placement at stoplights should be addressed and when parked doing reports by all means take the seatbelt off. If someone would like to continue the “ambush” argument, then please tell me just one example of where an officer was killed in an ambush because they were wearing a seatbelt? There isn’t enough time to list all of the officers killed in vehicle collisions because of a lack of seatbelt usage.
I don’t generally lean towards a “no tolerance” policy because situations are rarely the same but we’ve seen enough in this area. An officer not wearing a seatbelt should be disciplined and that discipline should be harsh. Sheriff Gillespie has gone this route and I’m told by instructors there that on regular field checks, the seatbelt compliance is 100%. As police leaders and as co-workers, we should expect nothing less.
Join Below 100
Lastly, Law Officer Magazine has given every agency a wonderful opportunity to pursue this issue as well as others that are contributing to the death of law enforcement officers. It has been more than 65 years since the annual line of duty deaths in law enforcement were below 100 and we will get there again. Join this important campaign; place the posters in your agency; pursue a ‘train the trainer’ course and do everything you can to make sure your agency does its part to get our line of duty deaths “Below 100”.
The first step is to wear your seatbelt.