We'll probably never know why Prince George’s County Police Department (PGPD) Officer Adrian Morris chose not to wear his seat belt on August 20, 2012, but that decision likely cost him his life. When he lost control of the patrol car he was driving, the vehicle left the roadway, went through a guard rail and into a group of trees. Morris was ejected and suffered massive head injuries that resulted in his death.
Morris had worked with PGPD since he was 15 as a police explorer. He was well known and liked. A year and a half ago he became an officer with the department. His department portrait shows a very professional and serious Morris in front of an American flag. He looks very sharp in his police uniform. Sadly, that picture is now shown on the Officer Down Memorial Page along with a summary of the circumstances leading to his death. In part, that summary says, “Officer Morris was ejected from the vehicle.” A photo of the PGPD vehicle shows extensive damage, but the passenger compartment is largely intact and there’s every reason to believe he would have survived if he'd been wearing his seat belt.
Not wearing a seat belt isn't unique to the tragic story of Officer Morris. This is a national problem and it’s killing our police officers. Multiple studies and research indicate that approximately half of patrol officers routinely go without this vital piece of safety equipment, even when they regularly wear the belts when off-duty. This has got to change. The evidence is clear: Seat belts make a difference, but only if you wear them!
Why does our culture embrace a choice that so clearly increases the risk of injury or death? In many cases, it has to do with belief in the ninja assassin – the fear that an ambush will occur and the officer will be trapped in the seat belt, unable to engage the assailant or escape the threat. However pervasive this belief is, it’s not borne out by the facts. Yes, ambushes do occur and sometimes they happen in the vehicle. But seat belts are virtually never a factor and I challenge anyone who believes they are to look at the documented evidence of the hundreds of officers who have died in collisions while not wearing their seat belt. Photos of many of those crashes show an intact passenger compartment indicating that the crash should have been survivable.
This isn't intended to be critical of Officer Morris. Every indication is that he simply wanted to be a professional police officer and serve his community. He grew up in that department and was obviously committed to his job. However, this is intended as an indictment of a police culture that perpetuates the myth of the ninja assassin. We can change this. We must change this. Don’t let the loss of Officer Adrian Morris be in vain. Let’s learn from this. I feel certain he would want it that way.