Traffic-related incidents are one of the leading causes of death for law enforcement officers each year. The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, just north of the Seattle area in Washington state, realized that a key component of protecting their employees was to make driving and traffic safety a priority.
In 2015, Sheriff’s Office personnel were involved in 11 on-duty collisions that resulted in major injury for either the employee or a country resident. The cost of these collisions totaled more than $2.4 million in medical, legal and litigation costs, plus three totaled patrol cars.
The office embarked on a multi-pronged approach to change the mindset and habits of their employees. Supervisors were required to attend a presentation by the mother of two girls killed in a police pursuit, the office incorporated the tenets of Below 100 into employee training and communications, and it implemented a more restrictive pursuit policy with an emphasis on safety and accountability. A Driving Review Board meets monthly to review all agency pursuits and on-duty collisions, and all commissioned employees receive a monthly Collision Pursuit review with statistics, Review Board findings and summaries, and safety tips.
The result of these efforts has been a significant reduction in traffic-, pursuit-, and collision-related injuries and damages. The total number of on-duty crashes decreased 16 percent in 2016, and preventable collisions fell 13 percent. Furthermore, there were zero collisions in 2016 that resulted in significant injury to employees or civilians.
These successes have resulted in the Sheriff’s Office becoming a pilot agency for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the area of officer safety, and NHTSA is monitoring their pursuit and collision statistics and data to help develop best practices and future training opportunities.