Below 100 is now a little more than two years old, and we’ve had some time to take stock of what is working. Along the way, we’ve realized that not everyone is motivated by the same factors. Officers can be a cynical group and more resistant to change than “normal” members of society. Most are drawn to police work because of the autonomous nature of the work, and many are fiercely independent. Human nature being what it is, we’re all motivated by a variety of factors. Identifying those motivational triggers is a key to embracing a culture of safety.
As more and more officers begin to walk the talk of common sense officer safety, we build momentum, and it’s that growing momentum that takes us closer to the tipping point. If you haven’t heard the term tipping point before, made popular by Malcolm Gladwell’s book by the same name, it’s a really important concept to understand. The relevance to our mission is this: Not everyone in a particular group (in this case, law enforcement) has to be directly influenced or convinced to do something for change to take place. We just have to reach a point where influential members of a culture adopt changes and the momentum of change takes over incrementally, occurring across the entire group. This takes place even when some within the group are unaware of the reasons behind the change.
Below 100 targets common sense safety actions that are under an officer’s control. Therefore, it’s up to the officer whether or not an action, such as use of safety gear, is taken. Once a pattern of behavior (good or bad) is in place, it’s likely to continue unless there is some type of interruption or information that causes reassessment. For instance, an officer who chooses not to wear a seat belt while working in a patrol environment is unlikely to change the behavior unless something triggers reconsideration of the behavior. This could be a comment from a respected peer, the birth of a new child or a strictly enforced change in department policy.
What Works: Peers, Tears and Fears
As a result of presenting Below 100 training, I realized that there are three angles of approach that individually and collectively are powerful and capable of causing officers to rethink their actions when it comes to officer safety. Here they are: peers, tears and fears. During the instructor training in Boca Raton (Fla.), I shared those three words with the officers in attendance and several commented on them, sharing their own thoughts about what would motivate them to change. One of those was a veteran deputy sheriff whose compelling statement I will share with you: “I’ve been a deputy sheriff for 25 years. I came to this training with a long history of not wearing my seat belt while on patrol. But I’ve got six kids and, that changes today. You got me? It’s not about me, it’s about them.”
Although we didn’t design the Below 100 presentations with peers, tears and fears in mind, the reality is that the training effectively incorporates all three. When it comes to peers, we emphasize the importance and effectiveness of courageous conversations. Sometimes a word from a friend or fellow officer is all it takes to cause someone to change their conduct. Travis Yates, one of our core Below 100 trainers, has candidly shared how, as a patrol sergeant and new EVOC instructor, he was approached by a fellow sergeant regarding his high speed driving. Travis said he was initially irritated but gave it a great deal of thought and changed. He says that conversation probably saved his life.
One of the most powerful video presentations in Below 100 training is a video interview with Susan Moody, the widow of Richmond (Calif.) PD Officer Brad Moody. Brad died in a single vehicle crash where a seat belt would have saved his life. The pain that Susan Moody still carries and the challenge of being a single parent are heartbreaking. Moody’s death was absolutely preventable, and that fact is never lost on a Below 100 audience. Often times, we pose the question: Who do you want raising your kids? The fact is there is risk associated with police work. Increasingly, officers understand that the risk they take, especially when unnecessary, can have a devastating effect on their family. This realization will cause many who are perfectly comfortable with risking their own life to rethink their actions.
Dennis Valone, another core Below 100 trainer, used this approach: Faced with an officer who stubbornly refused to wear a seat belt, Valone handed the officer a pen and paper, telling him to write down what should be said to the widow when the officer died as a result. This did the trick and the former non-belted officer has come full circle, once even sending out a patrol-wide MDT message to “please wear your seat belts” when the roads got slick.
When it comes to the fear factor, officers are realizing that the same actions that put them at risk can result in severe discipline and even criminal prosecution. Society is increasingly intolerant of officers who operate vehicles at high speed without due caution for others and often without necessity or justification. Across this country, virtually every state has a tragic example of an officer serving jail or prison time because their driving resulted in the death of an innocent human being. And even when there isn’t criminal prosecution, the unwarranted taking of life in a preventable vehicle crash has led to demotions, severe discipline and, in some cases, officer suicide.
Another fear factor: Some jurisdictions are withholding or limiting workers’ compensation and/or medical retirement benefits when issued safety equipment (seat belt, armor, reflectorized vest) was not in use at the time of death or injury. There are more than a few examples of benefits being delayed, denied or significantly decreased because the officer was deemed to have contributed to his own injury.
Those of you that have worked with me on Below 100 efforts know that the program is simple and straightforward in its approach. The words peers, tears and fears, are easy to remember and they’re powerful tools to move us closer to a culture of common sense safety. It’s time to use these tools. Have a courageous conversation with an officer who pushes the limit or goes without safety gear. Share with them that their actions may leave their family in a devastating situation and could even result in job loss or criminal prosecution. Tailor the conversation to resonate with the individual. Doing so will move us closer to the tipping point of cultural change that will save lives.
Remember: Below 100—the life you save may be your own!