Over the last few months, I have written articles on, Law Enforcement Driver Training, Managing the Roadside Work Zone, Preventing Blowouts, Emergency Response at High Speed, Seatbelts are part of the Uniform, and Focus beyond the Distractions. Those were all very important topics, but without the right attitude when operating an emergency vehicle, they don’t mean much.
I repeatedly teach that in law enforcement, we are allowed to believe that we are above the law. We even have a politically correct term for this: “Professional Courtesy.”
There was a time in not-so-distant history, if an off-duty police officer was stopped for a traffic violation, they were not warned, cited, arrested nor charged for most offenses. Of course, this has changed in regards to impaired driving, but many police officers not only expect professional courtesy, but even get upset if there is a warning citation issued.
While I have extended professional courtesy, and had it extended to me, I had no idea what it was doing to my attitude.
I developed my passion for training the mental aspects of emergency vehicle operation after the loss of three of our officers in separate car crashes in a span of less than five months. I witnessed the pain and grief of the family, the agency, and began reflecting on how I approached emergency vehicle operator training. As an EVOC Instructor, placing a police officer in a controlled environment and encouraging them to drive aggressively was what I was taught and since that was the way it was done, I kept up the tradition.
After the death of these young officers, I had to reflect on my methods of training. It became clear to me we were failing our officers by not stressing the mental aspects of emergency operation. I feel the responsibility for failures in my training methods and I also feel a conviction for the deaths of those young police officers.
I had to ask myself, was it the failure of trainers like myself to not place an emphasis on the mental preparation of driving, that placed those officers in a position to fail?
In teaching the seminar “Law Enforcement Driving Concern,” I hammer the point of rational thinking while responding to an emergency. Police officers often feel the responsibility of helping those they swore to protect, and it can cause an emotional response, and driving on emotion is a recipe for disaster.
My former boss always began staff meetings by writing on the white board “There is no substitute for common sense and good Judgement”. Driving a patrol unit in excess of 100 miles per hour is simply not common sense.
While there are situations where exceeding the maximum speed limit is necessary, the difference between 80 miles per hour and 110 miles per hour in a short distance is miniscule. A crash at 80 miles per hour, if wearing your seatbelt may be survivable where a crash in excess of 100 miles per hour is likely to result in severe injury or death.
The faster you drive the less chance you have of surviving.
That is why I teach, “Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly”. One mystery I have often contemplated as a police officer is that we would have no problem citing a civilian for driving 10 miles per hour over the speed limit, then when the shift is over, we drive 90 miles per hour on the way home.
In his book “On Killing,” Lt. Col Dave Grossmann uses the term “Moral Distance”. This became crystal clear to me as I read the passage explaining the concept.
“Their cause is Holy, how can they sin.”
As I contemplated this, I figured that if I’m doing the Lord’s work, I must be sanctified! This attitude can explain how shady probable cause can be used to engage a suspected drug dealer.
I know he’s dirty, he knows he’s dirty, so bending the search and seizure rules is effectively doing the job.
It is my job to clean up my jurisdiction, so if I bend a rule or two, no harm, no foul!
I have researched vehicle crashes for more than 20 years and I see a recurring theme. In responding to a call for service, officers feel a duty to respond as fast as possible. If that requires exceeding the speed limit (which is allowed under most emergency response laws) then I can respond as fast as my patrol unit will run. If I am responding to a crash, I need to arrive as soon as possible to prevent further crashes. Other drivers have an obligation to yield to the patrol unit regardless if the emergency lights and siren are activated because I am on an emergency.
If I am pursuing a violator disregarding red lights, stop signs, and traveling at a high rate of speed, then I too must do the same. In reading accounts of police officers involved in pursuits, many forget the requirements found in emergency the response sections of the traffic code. A police officer responding to an emergency call, pursuing an actual violator, or responding to, but not returning from a fire alarm, MAY, exceed the posted speed limit as long as the officer does not endanger life and property, proceed past a stop sign or red light after slowing as necessary for safe operation.
The verb form used in many emergency operation laws is MAY.
This provides the ability without a requirement.
It has become painfully obvious to me police officers may know the law but choose not to adhere to it. I believe this comes from conditioning. We are trained in a classroom but conditioned by watching others. In the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell refers to the “Law of the Mirror”.
“People do what people see.”
This process begins with the field training officer. If the FTO does not follow law and policy during the FTO process, then the new police officer will not either.
As a profession maybe we should take a hard look at our training, field training, and supervision as the Relentless Execution of the Fundamentals. To be successful you must do the small things right!
“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.” Nietzsche
We must keep our emotions and our attitude in check and be honorable in the relentless pursuit of excellence.
Please be safe my friends and keep the dirty side down.