We are losing far too many brother and sister law enforcement officers in traffic accidents that can be avoided. The sad thing is that we've always had this problem and always will because our cars serve as mobile offices. When the order is given to stay off the roads due to weather or inclement conditions, we're still out there. Let's reduce the amount of distractions that keep us from the business of operating a police vehicle.
In my day, we had one switch to pull/push to activate the lights. The radio had an on/off/volume and channel knob. The siren had a dial for off, yelp, or wail. Some of the cars didn't have an AM radio. That was it. You learned to listen to the police radio. Sadly though, we still had accidents.
I was talking to a trooper the other day and took a gander into his electric wonderland of a car. The trooper's means of transportation serves as his office, the mobile investigative command center, and speed enforcement vehicle. Yes, it's also a police car. How the electrical system of today's car withstands the electric load is amazing to me.
Additionally, the cost of today's total police car is nearly half add-on electronics. I'm not going to get into how to operate the radios, mobile data terminals (MDT), speed enforcement devices, on-board camera systems, light bars that can direct jet plane landings and such. Some officers add GPS, CB radios and satellite radios (for hard-to-get music stations). Here's the problem—they all become "cockpit distractions."
When I was an FTO, I told my recruits that we weren't going to listen to the AM/FM radio even though the ballgame was on. The recruit had to learn to listen to the police radio to learn how to operate a police vehicle while on patrol conditions. The way you drive a car and operate a police vehicle are two different skills. My recruits had to learn how to do one first before we added what few distractions we had back then.
Operating a police vehicle is serious business and at no time should it be made secondary. So wheeling down the road while screwing around with the MDT and chatting on the cell phone is dangerous. We constantly hear anti-texting public service announcements, and we do almost the same thing. Now, I know we are cops! We can drive at warp speed, drink coffee, and talk on the radio at the same time, right? Let's drop back and rethink this. Be honest. We have all driven down the road and been fiddling with the radio, glanced down at the cell, and then glanced up in the nick of time to avoid a crash.
I'm not writing this as a chief who doesn't want the fleet gnarled up. I'm writing this as the old police trainer who is weary of younger officers getting injured or dying while at the wheel. Some accidents will always occur, but if this article promotes one officer to think twice and maybe save their life, it was worth it. Stop, think, and proceed with safety.
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.View Bio