There was a break in the radio silence!
“Shots Fired” “Shots Fired” “City Officer Down” “Shots Fired” “Unknown where the shots are coming from”!
Adrenaline floods the blood stream of every officer on the shift. There are police officers in trouble, and I must get there!
The radio traffic alone sends chills up and down the spine of those responding. The adrenaline dump clouds rational thinking. Officers respond with visual and audible equipment. A responding officer approaches an intersection facing a red traffic light. A teen driver is unaware of the dangerous call to which the officer is responding. The officer is traveling at 107 miles per hour approaching the intersection and his patrol unit is a ghost unit with lights in the windshield and on the grill. (At about 88 mph the patrol unit’s audible equipment loses effectiveness). The teen starts through the intersection on a green light. The responding officer does not clear the intersection and strikes the vehicle killing the teen driver. All the while, the shots fired call and ambush is still an active situation. Now there is an additional problem. A police officer responding to the shots fired call did not make the call because they generated an additional call, crashing the patrol unit and taking the life of innocent teenager.
This scenario is all too familiar.
My mission since 2006 has been to end police officer deaths due to car crashes. Over the years I have and continue to research police vehicle crashes across America. I have found there are factors in those crashes that contributed to the severity, injury and or death of these officers.
The factor I will discuss today is operation at high rates of speed.
Everyone says speed kills, but it is always speed and an additional factor. Dale Earnhart lost his life on the final lap of the Daytona 500 on February 18, 2001. Speed was a factor, but speed was not the cause of the crash. Earnhart lost control of the #3 car in attempt to block aggressors from contesting his other two team members as they approached the finish line. Earnhart died because of a basilar skull fracture. Upon impact with the wall, Earnhart’s head was violently hurled forward resulting in the injury to his neck.
That day changed NASCAR forever. NASCAR adopted safety measures to protect the forward movement of the driver’s head in a crash to prevent such an event in the future. With that said, speed was a contributing factor to the severity but not the cause of the crash.
In law enforcement, officers become accustomed to operating patrol units at high speeds. Officers responding to calls seldom think of the dangers associated with operating a vehicle beyond their skill level. The difference between law enforcement and NASCAR, stock car drivers are highly trained and skilled. The cars are designed to grip the road and the track is designed for racing. Many police officers are trained on a cone course at speeds less than 40 miles per hour. The patrol units are equipped with heavy duty suspension and brakes, but not equipped like a stock race car. Patrol units operate on streets that are designed for normal driving conditions.
Meanwhile, many police officers are trained on a cone course at speeds less than 40 miles per hour. The patrol units are equipped with heavy duty suspension and brakes, but not equipped like a stock race car. Patrol units operate on streets that are designed for normal driving conditions.
As an EVOC instructor I was guilty of training drivers to be aggressive on the track. Aggressive meant pushing the limits of the car in a 40 mile per hour cone course. While driving faster than the prima facia speed limit is required at times for the job, I can say with total certainty many police officers are not properly trained.
I consider this one of my greatest failures as an instructor.
There is no good explanation for a police officer to die in the line of duty in a car crash or take the life of an innocent civilian. More time should be spent on the mental aspects of high-speed operation rather than aggressive driving.
The results of our failures include:
1. Liability of the jurisdiction
2. Liability of the agency, Chief, Sheriff, Supervisors, Training units and Field Training Officers
3. Finally, liability to the officer, their family, their livelihood, and possibly their freedom.
The vicarious liability includes:
1. Failure to train.
2. Failure to supervise.
3. Failure to discipline.
Law enforcement agencies across America must spend the time to train, supervise and discipline officers for questionable tactics behind the wheel of an emergency vehicle.
Law enforcement must begin with the following solutions:
1. Think rationally. This means override the emotions of the moment.
2. Clear intersections. This will require slowing down or even stopping (as required by law) but is far more productive than crashing at the intersection.
3. Remember, if you are called for assistance, someone needs your help. You cannot be of assistance if you crash while responding.
4. Honestly evaluate your skill level and remember your limitations.
5. Never drive faster than your Guardian Angel can fly!
I hope this article has provided you motivation to consider your skill level, the conditions of the road, and as a reminder to all of us, we cannot help if we do not get there!
Until next time, keep the dirty side down and please take care of yourselves.