FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
In my small department, the worst offender of officer safety is the chief. He wears no vest, and most times no duty belt. Cruisers are found unlocked, weapons are left out unsecured—you get the picture. How are we, the officers, supposed to handle this?
—Concerned in Smallville
As soon as I read “no vest,” my blood started boiling. If someone is working in any sort of enforcement or uniform capacity and they aren’t wearing a vest, they should be sent back to the barn and told not to return until they find their vest—and a brain. But I doubt you can get away with saying that to your chief anymore than I can fly to the moon in my department’s SWAT tank.
At the same time, it’s clear to me that you and I might work at agencies with some extreme differences. For one, the chief at my agency probably doesn’t know how to activate a light bar because the last time he made a traffic stop was probably before I was in the business. I’m not sure they even issue vests at his level because he splits his time between policy and decision making in his office and waiving the department flag to the city council and the public. He does own a duty belt, but it’s the kind you’d see on honor guard types with just a gun and a cuff case. The last time I saw him show up at an LE-related activity, he appointed someone to carry and monitor the radio for him and he stayed inside the command post until all the fun was over.
Addressing Your Chief
However, I get that there are plenty of small departments where the chief is tasked with enforcement duties. In those places, the chief needs to be outfitted with every piece of gear we all need.
To remind your chief of the dangers of policing at any size agency, you might want to do a little online research. For example, find and print out some articles regarding Chief Michael Maloney (Greenland, N.H.) who was shot and killed this year. Or the story of Chief Ralph Painter (Rainier, Ore.), who was shot and killed last year during a burglary call. Spread those types of articles around your department or stick them in his mailbox. Throw in some Below 100 articles for good measure (www.Below100.com). I might even pull out an ad from a vest company and staple it to the article.
He’ll eventually figure out it’s you doing it and ask or order you to stop. That’s your chance to explain to him that you care about officer safety—and about his safety. More importantly, you can explain how he needs to embrace his leadership role among the troops.
Weapons Out & Unlocked Cruisers
You can quickly put an end to people leaving weapons out. Next time you find one lying around, snatch it up and book it into evidence. Caution: Doing that may affect operational readiness. If it takes a day or two to get the gun out of evidence at your department, you may be leaving an officer without their duty weapon or their backup.
You might get the same end result by putting the gun in a secure place and letting whoever left it out go look for it for an hour or two. Ol’ Bullethead has seen that happen to people a bunch of times. But I’ve never seen it happen twice to the same person.
Unlocked cruisers are an easier fix. Move it a few blocks and watch the cop who left it unlocked freak out trying to find it. Make sure to use common sense.
What all of this comes down to is basic officer safety. Smallville, you need to inject some reality into your whole agency. The suggestions I made above are a good and relatively lighthearted start, but you really need a shift in the culture of your agency.
Even in a small agency, there’s no quick way to change culture. People don’t like change and cops really hate it, but that doesn’t make it impossible. You need to spread the word as often as possible without alienating your whole agency. Reach out to other agencies at the county or state level, or even a large municipal agency. These agencies are likely to have people who’d be happy to come down for a day or two of training. If you can find two trainers who’d be willing to give day-long classes a couple times a year on all aspects of officer safety, you can shift the culture. Look to the Below 100 initiative as well for inspiration and resources. Remember: If it’s predictable, it’s preventable.
As for you, just keep up the pressure, print and distribute literature, maybe book a few guns into evidence and move a few cruisers—eventually your fellow officers will get it.