Law enforcement aministrators and public safety officials love catchy slogans, which accounts for traffic caveats like "Watch Your Speed...We Do," and "Click it or Ticket."

Alas, it would appear that many officers are from the "Do as I say, not as I do" school of philosophy.

For despite issuing thousands of seatbelt tickets annually, many police officers die needlessly because they violate such vehicle codes themselves.

Now, if I'd used some eye-catching word like "trigger," "gun," or "naked women," I might actually get one of these hypocrites to read these words. But any cop so A.D.D.-ridden as to routinely skip wearing his seatbelt will probably gloss over this piece with hardly a second thought.

But since it is one of the more important topics that I or anyone else can write relating to patrol, I'll go through the formality.

I have previously touched on the importance of trying to get there in one piece, be it to an officer's request for assistance or a distraught citizen's cry for help. I'm not naive, and know that such reminders might register on the average cop's conscience for a shift or two before being put on the back burner in deference to pushing the envelope. Many cops love the thrill of the pursuit and the chance to roll with lights and sirens.

When I was a supervisor, I chewed out my fair share of deputies for driving in ways that can only be described as reckless. And to be candid, there was a time or two when I drove with my head up my lower orifice as well. But my lack of piety on the matter doesn't mitigate the fact that too many cops are killed annually in accidents that might have been avoided had they driven slower and worn their seatbelts.

Like many fellow frustrated sergeants, I've heard all the excuses. Cops will cite those anomalous instances wherein drivers and passengers were spared death by virtue of not wearing a seatbelt ("If he'd been wearing his seatbelt, he would've drowned!") Must be comforting to know one is more apt to die dry.

Or they will go on at great length about the complications they associate with seatbelts. "It gets tangled in the gear on my Sam Browne," or the always popular, "I need to be able to get in my car as quickly as possible before some suspect can get a drop on me."

Yet most of the officers who have been killed not wearing seatbelts were either rolling at high speeds to a call some distance away, or in the middle of a pursuit that was still far from its determination.

Sadder still, are those who claim that it's "just too damn uncomfortable wearing the damn things." I guess they can always comfort themselves they won't be in a state of discomfort in some crematorium or coffin as they won't be feeling a damn thing...It will be their families who feel the pain.

Already, this has been a particularly bad year for law enforcement. At this rate, 2010 will find far more names ending up on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial wall than last year.

This is hardly surprising. For while vehicle crashes attributed to just 26 percent of all law enforcement deaths between the years 1980 and 1982, they comprised 54 percent of officer deaths between 2005 and 2007. Fatalities incident to foot or motorcycle patrol remained largely unchanged, yet deaths in patrol cars spiked.

The greatest and perhaps the saddest irony is that more than any other danger associated with our profession traffic fatalities are perhaps the most preventable.

True, there are those unfortunate souls who will occasionally get T-boned by some drunk asshole at 2:15 in the morning through no fault of their own, and killed regardless whether or not a seatbelt was in use.

But when one examines those instances of single-party crashes where some cop simply lost control of his or her patrol car, it becomes apparent that the greatest danger a cop often faces is him- or herself.

At some level, I think most cops realize this, too. Having just skirted between two descending railroad guards, skidded up and over a sidewalk, and coming to a stop abreast of some propane tank, the cop will first think, "God, was I lucky." Too often, with time and war stories, he'll think, "God, was that fun! I wanna do that again!" (No wonder you see the same cops getting in traffic collisions time after time.)

That's why when it comes to cops wearing seatbelts, I suspect that it will remain a case of supervisors having to buckle down on their troops buckling up.

I'd love to know what you think. Do you use your seatbelt on duty? If not, why not? Please add your comment to the box below.

Bonus: Thanks to Wynn Sullivan for the following link to this week's idiot. It'd probably be half as long, but no more cogent without the profanity. Check it out before it gets removed:


Dean Scoville
Dean Scoville

Associate Editor

Former associate editor of Police Magazine and a retired patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Dean Scoville has received multiple awards for government service.

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Former associate editor of Police Magazine and a retired patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Dean Scoville has received multiple awards for government service.

View Bio