Law enforcement officers face hidden dangers on the road

WASHINGTON — The weekend death of Officer Brennan Rabain in a traffic crash is a fresh reminder of the risks officers face, and the toll that crashes take on the lives of law enforcement.

Rabain, 26, is the third Prince George’s County police officer killed in a crash in the past five years. Officer Adrian Morris died in 2012. On Monday, family and friends gathered at the grave of Tommy Jensen for a memorial service, marking the fifth anniversary of his death in a car crash.

“It is extremely dangerous on the roadways for our law enforcement professionals,” says Craig Floyd, chairman and CEO of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

“It’s a hidden danger to law enforcement. I think the public would be surprised to know that over the last 15 years traffic-related incidents have claimed more police lives than gunfire,” Floyd says.

Officers are struck and killed during traffic stops. There are motorcycle and vehicle crashes.  Last month, three Virginia state troopers were injured in three separate crashes.

Police union officials acknowledge the risk.

“It’s very dangerous, it’s very dangerous, the speeds with which we have to drive, at times, and the amount of traffic that’s on the road and the number of hours we drive, it’s very dangerous,” says Dean Jones, president of Fraternal Order of Prince George’s County Police, Lodge 89. “It’s one of the perils of being a police officer.”

As police continue to piece together the cause of the early Saturday morning crash of Officer Rabain, and while family and friends mourn on the anniversary of Officer Jensen’s death, Jones believes Prince George’s County police officers are being given adequate driver training.

“I think enough is being done.  We spend an inordinate amount of time on driver training.  There are driver safety programs in place,” Jones says.

However, some police agencies are stepping up driver training for rookie police officers.  Recent graduates of the Fairfax County Criminal Justice Academy received more driving training than firearms training. Some departments are also increasing the availability of refresher driver courses for veteran police officers.

“I think the trainers, the policy makers, the practitioners are recognizing that traffic safety is just as important as firearms safety and as a result the training has improved, but we still have a long way to go,” Floyd says.

Many of the recent fatal crashes which have claimed the lives of officers nationwide occurred when police were traveling at high rates of speed in response to emergency calls.

“One of the points of emphasis that we’re seeing at departments across this country and something we’re advocating as an organization is drive a little slower when you get those emergency calls,” Floyd says. “Too often the instincts of the officers is to drive as fast as they can so they can get to that innocent person in need.”

Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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