Floyd observes nearly every officer will be involved in a high-speed response or chase at some time, while only approximately 10 percent of officers will fire their weapon in the line of duty. But while firearms training is common, he points out driver training is not.
Yates, owner of www.PoliceDriving.com, says, officers often drive a car without ever having been trained to use that specific vehicle — or in law enforcement driving and pursuits. Beyond that, Floyd says officers also must understand that inside a cruiser, laptops, cameras, radar equipment, cell phones, radios and other technologies can be dangerous distractions. When they are on the roadway, Yates says officers also must wear ANSI Level II vests, and should be trained how to direct traffic and what lights to use at night.
The issue of vehicle-related incidents can't wait on the legislature or state training agencies, Yates says. Rather, he says, "Law enforcement agencies must take control and give their officers regular training and sound policy."NASCAR-like improvements
Great strides have been made in automobile safety for the public including seat belts, airbags and public education. The same cannot be said for law enforcement.
"Look at NASCAR," Floyd says. "Drivers are going 180+ mph when they crash into a wall, and they get out of their cars virtually unscathed much of the time."
Police officers lack this level of protection.
Like NASCAR, law enforcement could benefit from four-point seat belts and cruisers with a lower center of gravity, says Lt. Kevin Sommers, emergency management coordinator for the Warren (Michigan) Police Department and chairman of the National Fraternal Order of Police Safety and Technology Committee.
Floyd says restraint systems need to be designed for officers wearing duty belts, and fire suppression equipment should be common in every law enforcement vehicle. When officers' vehicles are rear-ended at a high speed, he says officers often will survive an initial crash but burn to death because the vehicle catches on fire.Training as if your life depends on it
"We seem to immediately think technology somehow automatically makes our officers safer," Yates says. But if not used correctly, new technologies may actually create a severe danger for officers.
Having an officer watch a video is not enough, he adds.
Sommers says, "We have to instill a mentality that officers have to train as if their life depends on it — because it does. When you're in a stressful situation, you revert back to your training."
Unfortunately, training is the first thing to go when agencies must trim their budgets. But when training isn't done, Nowicki says, "officers are injured or killed, or people inadvertently are injured or killed by police officers."
Training creatively can help stretch limited dollars, he says. The following ideas might help agencies maintain a high level of training on a shoestring budget:
- Officers have many areas of skill and expertise. Supervisors should learn what they are and put them to good use. Smaller agencies may benefit from sharing the skills of their officers with neighboring agencies, which should do the same in return.
- Civilians attending the citizen police academy may be able to help with training. For example, a prosecutor could provide a free legal update.
- State and federal agencies offer free training resources.
- Officers can train other officers. One officer could work under the tutelage of another officer on a different shift to learn more about training, then go back and talk to officers on his shift about safety issues or train to improve baton striking skills, for example.
- Full-time trainers must remember they exist to support the line. They should be conducting training during the shifts officers are working, for example.
If an officer must know something, he says his or her skills must be tested. When departments issue a new use-of-force policy, for instance, and ask officers to sign their names if they understand it, Nowicki says it means nothing. Officers must demonstrate they know how to use the policy.Challenges of policing today