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William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.

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Wearing a High-Visibility Vest May Save Your Life

They may not be your cup of tea, but they work.

October 05, 2010  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author


5.11 Tactical offers its Breakaway High-Vis Vest for law officers working motorways.

Excercising caution while working on the motorway may be covered by your department's rules, regulations, and policies but there's still a need to remind you of it. We're still losing officers in the line of duty or hearing about the severe injuries of officers struck by vehicles.

I'm not talking about felonious assaults, but being struck by inattentive or impaired motorists. Will a fancy reflective, high-visibility vest stop a speeding locomotive? No! Will it give you a better chance of surviving an oncoming passenger vehicle? Yes, so wear it.

I've heard cops say they were not going to wear those fancy schmancy vests because they don't appear police-like. Or, that they'll look like a school crossing guard. I have heard this makes us look like British or other European cops. Yes, they've been wearing high visibility for years and (big hint here) they're living to tell about it.

Some say it's not tactically sound. You're not in a sniper position. You're working a traffic control point. Not all cop fashion is in basic black. We look like other emergency responders. That's the point; look like a responder rather than a highway victim.

Until 1999, there were no state or federally mandated safety standards or regulations for safety vests. Some departments had orange "hunting vests" and that was about it. Then the American National Standards Institute created a set of voluntary guidelines called the ANSI/ISEA 107-1999 that has since been adapted by federal and state authorities, as well as and private industry. Then came 2003, and the law was further refined. This categorized the different levels of vest and amount of high visibility fabric and reflective material.

We still didn't play by the rules or found ways to wiggle out of this. Until Nov. 24, 2008, when new federal legislation placed requirements on emergency responders working within the right-of-way of a federal-aid highway. There were some exceptions for law enforcement officers.

Officers are still required under 23 CFR 634 to wear high-visibility clothing when performing duties such as directing traffic, investigating crashes, and handling lane closures, obstructed roadways, and disasters within the right-of-way of a federal-aid highway. Most highways we work get a penny or so from the feds, so they're covered.

Enough vest history and law; here's the point. According to recent data on officers dying in the line of duty, we lose five to seven officers a year from "struck by vehicle." This needs to cease.

I know what it's like to have to get out and work a traffic accident; it only takes a few seconds to don this vest. There are still some officers who resist wearing the vest and try to trump up the circumstances to exempt themselves. You're only endangering yourself by doing this.

I don't care if it doesn't look cool. What's important is the safety it affords the wearer to come back another day. If you want to dress to impress, it helps to be in one piece and alive. Wear the darn vest!


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