Practicing what we preach is an old cliché, but I must admit my time on the streets as both a deputy sheriff and chaplain has opened my eyes and changed the way I do things. We hear all too often about officers injured or killed in the line of duty as the result of a vehicle crash where they weren't wearing a seat belt.
I have heard all the arguments from officers about reasons not to wear a seat belt:
- Can't get out of the vehicle fast enough.
- The belt getting tangled up in your gear.
- The list goes on and on.
There were years I didn't wear a seatbelt in my POV or patrol car, but 20 years ago a dear friend another deputy was in a horrific accident in his patrol car. It rolled several times but my friend walked away because he was wearing his seat belt. I went to the accident scene. I saw his smashed vehicle. By all rights he should have been killed but he walked away without a scratch. From that day forward I have never gotten in a patrol car or my POV without buckling my seat belt.
Ten years ago while on patrol I was dispatched to an accidental shooting in a nearby small community. I recognized the name of a family I went to church with. As I entered the house I was met by the father of a 10 year old boy. He was holding his son who had been shot and couldn't move his legs. Later at the hospital as I investigated I learned the boy and a cousin had been playing at their grandfathers home.
The boys removed a pistol from an unlocked gun cabinet. The cousin somewhere in the room found a single loose bullet. Of all the guns in the cabinet the bullet fit the pistol they had removed . The pistol was fired striking the boy, severing his spinal cord and paralyzing him from the waist down. He is in college now but confined to a wheelchair. Suffice it to say every gun I own is under lock and key.
Several years ago as a chaplain and peer support team member I was called to a near by town where two officers had gone to a home to investigate a stolen vehicle. The man in the house fired at the officers on the porch striking one and pinning the other down. Neither officer had taken a portable radio with them. The stricken officer died at the scene from his injuries. The other officer was unable to call for backup. I am never without my portable when on duty.
I don't tell these stories to be critical. I tell them to make a point.
It has been said, "Those who fail to learn from history are destined to repeat it."
Let me encourage you to think back on lessons learned from your street experience.
Make a conscious effort after you finish this article to think back over the last year and come up with at least one lesson learned; something you can implement in your career that can really make a life or death difference. Make a decision to change that one thing in your life; the one way you do business on the street that can make a difference.
Then resolve to do one more thing. Pass it on. Resolve to tell at least one other officer what you have learned and decided to change.
The bottom line is we can see something we need to change. We can make note if it. We can think about it. We can dwell on it. Even write it down. But unless we actually take action to change it is all for naught.
My prayer for each if you is to never be faced with a situation in life when your act or omission, when you knew better, led to a tragic consequence for you or someone else.
Have a safe summer and let’s be careful out there.