How to Encourage a Culture of Officer Safety
Hank Stawinski, Chief of Prince George’s (MD) County Police Department, discusses how law enforcement agencies can reinforce a culture of officer safety using subtle messages such as radio broadcasts to remind officers to avoid rushing to resolve a situation.
[ON SCREEN TEXT] What does the research tell us about why law enforcement officers fail to use life saving equipment?
JEFF ROJEK: It varies agency to agency. We've had some agencies where officers wear their seatbelt, reportedly wear their seatbelts 70 percent of the time, almost always. And other agencies where that's more like 40 percent of the time and the attritions from there were only some 17 percent, 18 percent don't wear it at all.
And some of the factors, some of the biggest factors when we talk to officers are things such as counterbalancing with other officers' safety risks that carry more concern to them, things like being shot, being trapped in a vehicle, being assaulted, even though the research shows us that they're just as likely to die or have a serious injury from an auto collision. But it's our perception that those are bigger safety risks. So and other things deal with technical equipment issues, some issues dealing with accountability. Even though they may have a policy, they don't believe it's necessary, held accountable to it. And so, on the flipside, those officers who believe, for example, there's accountability, they're more likely to wear their seatbelt. Those officers who understand, who are very careless or have personal knowledge of being involved in a collision are more likely to wear a seatbelt.
[ON SCREEN TEXT] What practices can law enforcement agencies implement to encourage a culture of safety?
HANK STAWINSKI: What we have endeavored to do is reinforce a safety message predicated on people acknowledging the value of their own personal safety, but we have a busy profession. It's a demanding job. And in the heat of the moment, those things can be overlooked. So what we do is every Tuesday, we engage with the department personally where we have a conversation about where we are with the program and where we are with our safety and how many accidents, providing a statistical view on how successful we're being as an agency. But that's not really how we accomplish our mission. We persuade people. And in doing so, we reinforce that message outside of those Tuesday sessions with broadcasts on the radio. So our public safety communications, every six hours, broadcasts a new safety message every week.
JEFF ROJEK: I think some of the practices you can have at an individual level. So improving accountability, improving training, but I think the reality is is maybe putting those altogether in a comprehensive type of framework where you improve the training on officer safety issues, you improve the equipment that you use, you improve the policy. So it's a much more comprehensive approach to address and they're self-reinforcing to some degree.
The other issues to consider as well is if you want adherence to policy and change and this is an emerging issue in our field, is thinking about things such as organizational justice where officers are much likely to adhere to policy and policy changes if they believe that the agency is fair, and there's trust, and there's buy-in, that the agency actually cares about them.
HANK STAWINSKI: The process is important because the only way you can actually impact a culture is to constantly reintroduce that message. And again, if it's one presentation in time, that will fade. But if it's constant small reminders, and I will stress this, constant subtle reminders as well, it's not overbearing so that people become irritated by it. It's just a little bit in the background. And again, that's the hope that traveling at a high rate of speed or approaching an armed confrontation, that little, subtle piece will pop back into their consciousness, and it causes them to not rush to resolve that situation, to make sure that they find cover as opposed to immediately moving to the confrontation, or slow the car down.
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