By Jean Reynolds

A nonprofit organization called Below100 has developed five common-sense guidelines for police officer safety. The research-based guidelines encourage officers to wear seatbelts and vests and to follow some simple procedures that can reduce risk to officers on duty. Seatbelts, body armor, clear thinking, and attention to detail can help keep officers safe.

In a well-run law-enforcement agency, everyone from dispatchers to supervisors cooperates in the effort to ensure police officer safety. But the first person who should be looking out for you is…you. Research has shown that following five simple guidelines can significantly reduce the chances of a job-related injury. These suggestions come from Below 100, a nonprofit organization committed to enhancing police officer safety:

  1. Wear your seatbelt.

The greatest threat to police officer safety isn’t guns: It’s cars. Data show that vehicle collisions are by far the biggest cause of officer injuries and deaths—and in more than a third of those accidents, the officers weren’t wearing seatbelts. Are you worried that your seatbelt might prevent you from exiting your vehicle quickly in an emergency? The Below 100 organization recommends practicing—over and over again—taking off your belt as your vehicle comes to a stop. Those reflexes will be there when you need them, and so will your seatbelt.

  1. Watch your speed.

Follow your agency’s guidelines for high-speed pursuits, and always ask first if the chase is really necessary. In the vast majority of situations, slowing down won’t affect the outcome and may save your life. The few seconds saved by driving at breakneck speed aren’t going to have a significant effect on your arrival time. Drive safely.

  1. Wear your vest.

Body armor can save your life and allow you to continue fighting if a suspect tries to take a shot at you. Although the additional layer of clothing can be uncomfortable, especially in hot weather, the additional protection is priceless.

  1. Apply the WIN (What’s Important Now?) principle.

Developed by Lou Holtz in his book Winning Every Day, the WIN process will help you set priorities and make effective decisions. Make a habit of thinking through your choices as you go through your shift. When you pull into a parking lot at a convenience store, is your first thought to check that there’s no criminal activity going on inside? When you step out of your car for a traffic stop, do you check oncoming traffic first?

Because police work often requires adrenaline and fast action, officers sometimes skip that all-important thinking step. It usually takes only a second or two and can help keep you safe.

  1. Avoid complacency.

Every career—including law enforcement—involves a certain amount of routine and repetition. It’s all too easy to overlook a simple step that might make the difference in a tense situation. Before every shift you should check your equipment (weapon, flashlight, glasses, gloves) and make sure that you have batteries and chargers for any electronic devices that need them. Clear your mind of any personal issues that might distract you. The ability to focus on the here-and-now is a major advantage in keeping you safe.

The bad news is that police work can be risky—but the good news is that your training, habits, and equipment can help ensure your safety. The five simple guidelines developed by the Below 100 organization can be lifesaving. Commit them to memory, follow them, and encourage your fellow officers to do the same.

Holtz, L. (1999). Winning every day: The game plan for success. New York: HarperPerennial.