By Joel Bolton, Project Manager, Gulf States Regional Center for Public Safety Innovation, Natchitoches, Louisiana; and Robert T. Wall, Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police and Coordinator, IACP National Law Enforcement Challenge
ntering the IACP’s National Law Enforcement Challenge means that the community you serve has already won. Participation is an indicator of a proactive agency that values its role in keeping the streets and highways of its jurisdiction safe.
Simply completing the application reinforces the basic elements of a solid law enforcement traffic safety program for your agency: sound policy, training, incentives and recognition for officer achievement, public information, enforcement, and evaluation. These elements form the judging criteria for the Challenge.
Previously in this space, we took an in-depth look at the judging process for the Challenge. We also looked at the important aspects of good agency policy for traffic safety issues, as well as the importance of communicating priorities to officers through enforcement guidelines for safety belts and child restraints, alcohol consumption, and speeding. This month we will continue a discussion on the role of training in building a good traffic safety program.
The Benefits of Training
Training is essential to performance. This statement is as true for traffic safety issues as for any other topic area in your training program.
Traffic laws are not static; neither are the issues that need to be addressed on your community’s streets. Effective and frequent training reinforces the importance of traffic safety while equipping officers with the skills and abilities to both enforce the law and educate the public.
Successful training will both inform and motivate officers, resulting in a patrol force that is confident in its enforcement abilities and involved in finding solutions to traffic safety problems. Another important outcome is an improvement in traffic cases presented for prosecution, as well as the officer’s ability to testify in court.
There is no argument that the competition for time on agencies’ training calendars is stiff. The skills that are required of today’s patrol officers are many. From the traditional knowledge base required for successful personal interaction with the public to a new array of technical skills, there is no shortage of training needs. It is important to remember, however, that few elements of officers’ daily routines provide the opportunity to save lives and prevent injuries to the extent that increasing safety belt usage, reducing unsafe speeding, and apprehending impaired drivers can achieve.
Types of Training
Few agencies have the luxury of a budget sufficient to accomplish all their training desires. Fortunately, traffic safety training can often be provided at a very low cost. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has developed several programs; contact your state highway safety office for upcoming training opportunities.
Training courses cover everything from an overview of the traffic safety function in a law enforcement agency to the highly technical Drug Recognition Expert Program. In addition to the courses with which most are familiar, such as Standardized Field Sobriety Testing, available topics include youth alcohol enforcement, speed measurement, DUI homicide, Operation Kids, public information, special traffic enforcement programs (STEPs), and building safe communities. One of the most popular courses, Traffic Occupant Protection Strategies (TOPS), will soon be available in a new, updated version.
Other courses can help meet your traffic safety training needs. Depending on the problem issues identified in your jurisdiction, you will be able to find programs on road rage, rail crossing safety, and bicycle/pedestrian safety. A combination of lifesaving prevention and good public relations has been realized by departments who have trained child passenger safety technicians on staff. With this training, departments are able to offer fitting stations for parents to help them with questions and issues about safely restraining our youngest passengers.
Delivery of the training can take the form of classrooms, shift briefings, field training, videos, Web-based seminars, or any other format you can imagine. An innovative and successful approach by many departments has been to adopt short, scenario-based trainings in roll call on a daily basis. Known by a variety of names such as “One-Minute Training” or “Six-Minute Training,” a typical one-page scenario is presented to trainees with a series of multiple-choice questions that highlights the important information to be conveyed. Some agencies use a document with the correct answers and a discussion on the back, whereas others use live discussion to arrive at the desired result.
Among the advantages to this form of training is that it allows the department to identify training gaps through internal investigations, supervisor input, citizen complaints, lost court cases, erroneous reports, and other analysis, then develop a realistic scenario to convey the correct information. Additionally, the cost is very low, and problems can be addressed and corrected quickly. Traffic safety issues are a natural for this type of training.
Striking the Right Balance
Traffic safety topics should be an integral part of the balanced approach of any agency’s comprehensive training program. The IACP Law Enforcement Challenge offers an opportunity to ensure that traffic safety training is part of that balance. Review your training records for the year. Does that balance exist? Are your officers allowed and encouraged through the training program to save lives by enforcing traffic safety laws?
Next month, we will continue reviewing the elements of a solid traffic safety program. In the meantime, visit www.lawenforcementchallenge.org and start preparing your winning Law Enforcement Challenge entry.■