Cut to the click
In an attempt to reduce on-the-job injury or death, municipal police agencies are being urged by their insurance carriers and/or risk managers to develop policy on mandatory use of seat belts. But, even police departments that have seat belt policies often don't enforce them with much enthusiasm.
"In 32 years of being a cop, I can think of only one situation where a trooper has been disciplined for not wearing his seat belt," says Jim Jensen, president of the Minnesota State Patrol Trooper's Association (MSPTA).
Nevertheless, most state and local law enforcement agencies require the use of seat belts for officers, says Maj. Steve Jones, of the Idaho State Police. "Nationally, many agencies do not, but more seem to be moving in that direction," he says.
Jones notes that state agencies seem more likely to require the use of seat belts as compared to local jurisdictions.
"There seems to be a perception that because local agencies, and particularly city police officers, are generally operating at lower speeds, they do not need seat belts," Jones says.
Most law enforcement agencies, like the South Carolina Highway Patrol, require precision driving training on an annual basis. "Every third year, troopers are required to attend defensive driving courses, training that emphasizes the use of seat belts in all driving situations, including law enforcement operations," says Capt. J. D. Connelly of the South Carolina Highway Patrol.
The Arizona Highway Patrol includes instruction on proper seat belt use during mandatory police driving classes and refreshers. "Our agency has published video segments on seat belt use that include testimonial pieces," says Andy Swann, president of the Associated Highway Patrolmen of Arizona. "Seat belt use also is emphasized in our police driving refreshers."
Park City, Utah, chief of police Lloyd Evans believes compliance is a matter of education, training and discipline.
"Education of the officers on the practical safety issues surrounding seat belt use is imperative, although any officer who has responded to an auto accident where the victims were not wearing seat belts and didn't survive should already understand," Evans says.
Evans believes training should focus on how officers exit their police vehicle quickly when wearing a seat belt.
Saved by the belt
Some law enforcement administrators' organizations seem to be recognizing their responsibility to provide the safest possible work environment. For the past 10 years, for instance, the IACP has made a consistent effort to encourage officers to wear seat belts at all times.
"Toward this end, we recognize officers whose lives are saved, or whose injuries were reduced, because they were wearing their seat belt at the time of a crash," says John "Jack" Grant, of IACP's Division of State and Provincial Police.
State organizations also are active in seat belt use promotion.
The Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police strongly supports seat belt use by everyone - including police officers, says president Ervin Portis.
The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs believes that all law enforcement officers should wear seat belts. "Police officers and deputy sheriffs are not immune from the dangers of auto crashes," says executive director Donald Pierce.
Minnesota's MSPTA, for instance, strongly agrees with management on the seat belt question. Jensen says he is pro discipline on only a handful of issues, but mandatory seat belt use by officers is an issue he strongly believes in.
"If the threat of suspension time will make an officer buckle up, then departments need to take that step to assure they are keeping their cops safe," Jensen says. "It only takes a second to snap on a belt, which could save someone years of rehabilitation and grief from being launched through the windshield."
Awards are one way to promote usage. Cutting benefits is another. One police department slashes benefits 50 percent if officers who get in a duty-related car accident are found not to have been belted. Still other agencies appeal to the officer's sense of duty. Police officers who take an oath to uphold the laws of their jurisdiction are expected to serve as an example and obey those same laws.