By Tracy Trott, Guest Blogger; Colonel, Tennessee Highway Patrol
The issue of a mandatory wear policy for bulletproof vests has surfaced several times during my first 18 months as the colonel of the Tennessee Highway Patrol. I was always resistant because I felt it was a personal choice; it was not customary for my generation of troopers to wear bulletproof vests. I was concerned about being seen as hypocritical because I never wore a vest.
Two incidents in the past eight months have changed my position on this policy.
In September 2011, Trooper Dwayne Stanford was shot at close range with a 9mm handgun in the center of his chest, right beside his uniform pocket flap. Thankfully, he was wearing his vest; he had even equipped it with an extra trauma plate. Trooper Stanford returned fire and killed his assailant: a wanted felon.
The second incident occurred in March 2012. Sergeant Lowell Russell’s patrol car was struck in the rear while parked on the shoulder of I-40 when the driver of a tractor trailer fell asleep. The patrol car was destroyed and immediately burst into flames. Paramedics and police officers passing by saw the crash and rescued Sergeant Russell with only seconds to spare. He suffered numerous critical injuries including a fractured skull, broken ribs, and a punctured lung. By all accounts, his bulletproof vest kept him from sustaining fatal chest trauma.
After these two incidents, Deputy Commissioner Larry Godwin came to me and said, “We have had two warnings.” He was well aware of my previous position on mandatory wear policies. We declared right then and there that we would not go to a fallen trooper’s home and explain a death that we could easily have prevented.
I will be implementing a mandatory wear policy for my agency on January 1, 2013.
- To learn what your colleagues in the field are doing to promote officer safety, see the May issue of Police Chief magazine in its online or its digital format. Want to receive a print copy of Police Chief magazine? Click here for subscription and renewal information.
- The National Law Enforcement Policy Center has prepared a document, Officer Safety and Risk Management, in response to the IACP initiative on promotion of officer safety. To order, click here.
- This week is National Police Week. For a schedule of events taking place in the Washington, D.C., area, click here.