By Todd Duncan, Law Enforcement and Safety Specialist

‘Tis the season for Nebraska winter weather, and this means performing routine and critical operations in less-than-ideal or sometimes even hazardous conditions. As a law enforcement officer, working in hazardous conditions is a necessary part of the job, whether you are driving to and from work off duty or responding to a call for service. However, there are things you can do to enhance safety when the temperatures plummet.

A good first step is to maintain situational awareness, which includes paying attention to weather conditions. Today’s smartphones make it easy to get real time severe weather alerts anytime, anywhere. Simply download your favorite weather app and set your notification preferences to allow for weather alerts.

When it comes to driving, one of the most important things you can do to enhance safety is slow down and increase your following distance. Leave early when commuting to work to give yourself extra time and allow you to adjust your speed to the conditions. In keeping with the Below 100 Program, watch your speed even when responding to emergencies. Arriving at the scene in one piece and going home at the end of your shift are top priorities.

Ensure your vehicles are properly serviced, maintained, and stocked with winter supplies. Do you have an ice scraper, jumper cables, tow rope, blanket, and a shovel in your vehicles? Do you have adequate tread on your tires and some method of improving traction if things get icy or you get stuck? A bag of kitty litter or sand can give you the added traction you may need if you get stuck in slippery conditions.

Slips and falls are one of the leading causes of workplace injuries. This risk is even higher for law enforcement officers who are required to walk, run, or sometimes grapple on icy surfaces. A simple way to reduce this risk is to invest in an inexpensive pair of ice cleats like Yaktrax or TREX that can be worn over your shoes/boots.

When the temperature is zero degrees Fahrenheit or below, it takes about 30 minutes for exposed skin to get frostbite. At 15 degrees below zero with even a little bit of wind, frostbite is possible within 15 minutes. Insulated clothing including facemasks, hats, gloves, and winter shoes/boots are a must, especially when performing duties that require extended periods outdoors such as crash investigations, traffic direction, perimeter security, etc. Cold feet can make for a miserable shift, so you may want to consider wool socks which provide superior warmth and retain heat even when wet.

One winter patrol activity that can be particularly hazardous is motor vehicle crash investigations. Nothing will get the juices flowing like an out-of-control car or semi careening towards you as you are taking measurements at the scene of a crash during a snow or ice storm. From a risk/reward standpoint, when road conditions are hazardous, it is often advisable to move all involved persons and vehicles to a safe location clear of passing vehicles as soon as possible to complete the investigation. In extreme cases, e.g., icy conditions, where all involved vehicles are off the roadway, the best course of action may be to transport the involved persons to a safe location to conduct the investigation and wait to tow the vehicles until conditions improve. Obviously, extenuating circumstances may influence this decision (i.e., fatal crashes, DUIs, etc.).

Last but certainly not least, remember to practice accessing your weapon and arrest and control tools while wearing winter gear. Can you safely and proficiently draw and fire your firearm(s) or access your radio, cuffs, baton, pepper spray, and other critical equipment while wearing a winter coat and gloves? This can be particularly tricky for deputies who wear a winter coat over an external vest carrier with a MOLLE system. It is better to figure this out at the range than on the side of the road during a violent encounter.

Stay safe out there!

Please contact Todd at 531-510-7446 or if you have any questions.