Safety Behind the Wheel
with Capt. Travis Yates
It has been five months since an Illinois State Trooper lost control of his vehicle responding to a vehicle collision, struck a car and killed two sisters. Eighteen year-old Jessica Uhl and thirteen year-old Kelli Uhl died instantly. [Read more]
The subsequent investigation revealed that Trooper Mitchell was traveling 126 mph and had been involved in previous collisions with the Illinois State Police. There has been a heavy price paid by the victims, their family, Trooper Mitchell and the Illinois State Police. The Trooper has been charged with reckless homicide and faces up to 16 years in prison while living with the horrible consequences of his actions. The Uhl Family faces years of inconceivable grief and the members of the Illinois State Police will face criticism for some time over the incident.
There are plenty of individuals to blame and much of it has already been done but this story is not new. Agencies across the country do not give their officers the proper training in driving. The Illinois State Police has been exposed but how many others are guilty but something bad just hasnâ€™t happened yet?
Deputy Ron Kelley, a member of the International Law Enforcement Educators & Trainers Association and law enforcement driving instructor says it best when he discusses the â€œThree Câ€™sâ€.
â€œJust because something has not happened, doesn’t mean it won’t in the future. This creates three human actions. We become complacent, careless and comfortable. All three are a path to tragedy.â€
Is that tragedy waiting at your agency? In seminars, I often discuss the typical police agency:
â€¢ A pursuit or emergency run ends tragic.
â€¢ The media becomes involved and looks into the issue.
â€¢ Concerned citizens express their concern.
â€¢ The pursuit policy is changed in reaction to the third party involvement.
â€¢ Driver training is implemented.
The above scenario will either sound familiar to you or one day it likely will.
Why does it take tragedy to spur change? Why do we let others dictate what we should be doing now?
How could the single most dangerous activity a law enforcement officer does be ignored when it comes to training? We know this year will be the same as last. More officers will die from a roadway incident than are feloniously assaulted.
Many agencies are doing the right thing. They are training their officers on a regular basis in the diminishing skill of driving and specifically pursuit and emergency driving. We simply cannot expect our officers to react perfectly in pursuits or emergency runs if the last time they had training was years ago.
Pursuit statistics tell us that we are far from perfect. Approximately one-third of all pursuits end in a collision. Property damage and injuries could never be considered a success in our business and no other law enforcement activity has a failure rate of 33%. There is not another law enforcement activity that has the potential to adversely affect the entire community like police driving does. When an officer engages in a pursuit or emergency run, the entire motoring public has become at risk. These risks are real and it is time the law enforcement community recognizes those risks and does something about it.
Deputy Ron Kelley states that â€œNowhere have I seen an accepted practice of collateral damage than in law enforcement. Training every officer on a reoccurring basis will reduce not just the number of emergency and pursuit collisions but will also reduce the daily non-emergency driving collisions.â€
While there has been plenty of blame thrown around and the Illinois State Police and Trooper Mitchell has certainly been the center of that blame, how many other agencies are to blame for not being proactive on the issue of driver training? How many Chiefs or Sheriffs are going about their day and refusing to give their officers a safe environment when they get in their car everyday?
There are not enough excuses to not train that makes up for the death of one human being. If the San Diego Police Departmentâ€™s 2000 officers can train on a parking lot every 24 months or the entire State of Wisconsin can send every officer through driver training on a regular basis, then your agency can as well.
It is time that our profession stops accepting â€œcollateral damage.â€ Police vehicle collisions are not a part of our business. I applaud the leaders in our profession that are training our officers and I beg those that arenâ€™t to start.
Captain Travis Yates commands the Precision Driver Training Unit with the Tulsa, Okla. Police Department. He is a nationally recognized driving instructor and a certified instructor in tire deflation devices and the pursuit intervention technique. Capt. Yates has a Master of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Northeastern State University and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy. He is the owner of www.policedriving.com, a website dedicated to law enforcement driving issues and the Director of Ten-Four Ministries, dedicated to providing practical and spiritual support to the law enforcement community. You may contact Travis at [email protected].