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Police should take lead on car safety

By Claes Bell ·
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Posted: 2 pm ET

A couple of troubling stories about traffic fatalities involving police officers illustrate how much more police departments could be doing to protect officers and set a better example on safety for U.S. drivers.

The first one is a story from Pat Beall of the Palm Beach Post regarding the venerable Ford Crown Victoria cars that many police departments still use. Apparently, the large, rear-wheel-drive sedans are prone to catching fire and killing or injuring police officers:

By one estimate, fiery Ford Crown Victoria crashes have claimed more lives than the notorious Ford Pinto, subject of a nationwide recall in 1978. "Basically, the Crown Vic is a big Pinto," said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a Washington­-based advocacy group.

Ambroise, who died last year, is the latest of at least 30 law enforcement officers since 1983 who fell victim to fiery Crown Victoria crashes. Five were in Florida. Another 20 escaped patrol cars that crashed and caught fire.

The other story is an astonishing account of a police motorcycle officer who died in a collision with another motorcycle officer, only to have a third motorcycle officer injured in a crash leaving his funeral. From Thomas Watkins at the Associated Press:

Hawthorne police motorcycle Officer Andrew Garton died May 26 after getting into a collision with another motorcycle officer as they escorted the procession for Manhattan Beach Officer Mark Vasquez, who had died of cancer.

Amazingly, it gets worse:

A Cypress motorcycle officer who helped coordinate the memorial was himself in an accident as he left the funeral, police Sgt. Bob Cote said. The officer, who has not been identified, broke his wrists in a collision with a truck that was turning into a shopping complex about 2 1/2 miles from the service, Cote said.

When Sean Smith of Hell for Leather, a motorcycle enthusiast site, pointed out that some of those injuries and deaths could have been prevented by police wearing adequate safety gear, it got me thinking about the whole issue of police safety.

As Smith points out, motorcycle police riding around wearing minimal safety gear doesn't send the best message to other riders. But aren't we sending a similar message that safety isn't important by allowing tax-funded police departments to buy anything less than the safest vehicles available?

After all, police driving, whether it be on a motorcycle or in a cruiser, is far more dangerous than the kind of driving civilians do. They often end up weaving through traffic, blowing through red lights and accelerating from a standstill onto fast-moving streets during the normal course of their duties. Yet, as Smith points out, police departments are clothing motorcycle police in thin jodhpurs and half helmets and putting other officers in cruisers with crash performance characteristics that are at best outdated, and at worst, flat-out dangerous.

By putting our police in this situation, we're essentially signaling to the public and automakers that traffic safety isn't all that important, and those killed on our highways due to unsafe cars or inadequate motorcycle gear are acceptable losses.

Instead, we should be clothing our motorcycle police in the best racing safety gear available and allowing only the cars that perform at the highest level in IIHS and NHTSA crash tests to be bought by police departments. Not only would doing so help protect the lives of officers, it would also send the message that, when it comes to the cars and motorcycle equipment we buy, nothing is more important than safety.

What do you think? Should police departments be taking the lead on safety? Any officers out there who care to comment?

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June 08, 2011 at 6:20 pm

I can't speak for other communities around the country, but at least here in Santa Rosa,CA., the actions of most officers around the city would put any of us in a very expesive position due to negligent behavior behind the wheel. No amount of personal protection will replace personal responsability to oneself and to the community THEY ARE PAID TO SERVE AND PROTECT. I am willing to keep paying for equipment, bought with our tax dollars with out reservation from myself. Equipment they need so they can do the job they were hired to do, but it is hard when the pot calls the kettle black out on the streets.