he start of a new year presents an opportunity to reevaluate issues in our agencies, resolve to make changes, and get fresh starts on old topics.
Traffic safety in your community should be high on your list of priorities as you seek to serve and protect better in 2006. A great place to start is by reviewing how you anticipate, evaluate, and respond to problems and opportunities to improve the safety of the motoring public in your community.
The goal of a good traffic safety program is simply to save lives and prevent injuries. Putting a comprehensive program into action involves several basic considerations that, when taken together, will pay big benefits: adopting sound policies and guidelines; training your officers; educating your community; recognizing exceptional actions by employees and others; aggressively enforcing safety belt, alcohol, and speed laws; and evaluating where your problems are and how well you respond.
Policy and Enforcement Guidelines
At this point, nearly every agency has a policy that requires safety belt use by employees. While many of those policies contain similar language to help protect officers, the difference among agencies is how the CEO and commanders show their support for that policy and how aggressively supervisors enforce it. Our officers are no different from others in that they expect the people they respect to model good behavior, and some need a little reminder from an authority figure occasionally.
Also important are guidelines on enforcement of traffic safety laws. These guidelines should go beyond the how-to of running a special detail or making an impaired-driving arrest. There should be a clear statement of the level of importance the agency places on enforcement of alcohol, speed, and safety belt laws.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police has developed model policies and guidelines for your use. Compare these models to your current policy statements to look for possible areas of improvement.
Frequent training is an excellent way to reinforce the importance of traffic safety while providing officers the skills and abilities to effectively enforce the law. Whether in a classroom, shift briefing, or field training format, recurrent training helps keep employ-ee's knowledge of current laws, policies, technologies, and techniques up-to-date. Better cases are presented for prosecution and officers are more comfortable with enforcing the law. Knowledge gained through training carries over into public education work.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has developed a number of training courses specifically for law enforcement. You are probably familiar with many of these, such as standardized field sobriety test training. There are also courses on recognizing drug-impaired drivers, safety belt enforcement, public information, and other topics. Contact your state highway safety office for information on current training opportunities.
Public Information and Education
Police officers are highly respected as sources of accurate information when it comes to personal safety. That, combined with the fact that officers deal with the causes and the often tragic aftermath of motor vehicle crashes daily, makes educating the public about the importance of safe driving a natural fit for a police agency.
Community education is most effectively accomplished by using a combination of opportunities. Electronic and print media present the means to reach many people with your message. Departments can gain access to mass media through printed media releases, press conferences and events, or making knowledgeable staff members available for interviews.
The national enforcement campaigns around holiday periods present excellent opportunities to localize the traffic safety message and take advantage of media work done nationwide. Campaign planners often feature ready-to-use press releases, talking points, and suggestions for editorial page comment that you can adapt to local use.
Time and space limitations, however, often have an unfortunate result: less than what you needed to say makes it into print or onto the airwaves. Avenues to better control your message are afforded through face-to-face events such as civic club presentations, employee safety meetings, and school group activities. Displays at community fairs and festivals are also effective means of getting your message out while improving your department's image. Develop your own brochure or use fact sheets from national organizations to help communicate the information.
Remember, also, that you are not always the only effective spokesperson for traffic safety. While your commitment and vocal support are critical to getting the message out, there are other voices in your community that can speak with great impact about the lifesaving effects of safety belts or the importance of sober driving. Crash victims who survived because they were properly buckled can tell a convincing story. Communicating the story of those impaired driving deaths that we failed to prevent also are meaningful reminders not to drive after drinking. Don't forget other advocates and allies who have an interest in injury prevention, such as emergency room doctors and nurses.
In this space next month, we'll look at the remaining three areas of a comprehensive traffic safety program: recognition and awards, enforcement, and effective evaluation. If your department is already working in all these areas, congratulations! Please consider communicating what you're doing through the IACP National Law Enforcement Challenge, a fun way to share program ideas that work, while earning the opportunity to win great prizes. The application form is available online at (www.theiacp.org).