Maryland police chiefs urge cops to buckle up

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Photo - The funeral of Police Officer first class Adrian Morris, who died in the line of duty on August 20th. Tuesday, August 28, 2012
The funeral of Police Officer first class Adrian Morris, who died in the line of duty on August 20th. Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Local,Maryland,Ben Giles

Police officers in Maryland are dying in motor vehicle crashes more frequently than any other reason in recent years, and police chiefs across the state are urging cops to buckle up and avoid preventable deaths.

Nine of the last 11 officers killed in the line of duty in Maryland died in motor vehicle accidents, according to Larry Harmel, executive director of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association. It's unclear how many of the nine officers weren't buckled up, but Harmel said that in at least a few of those instances, the officer involved wasn't wearing a seat belt.

The last two Prince George's County police officers to die in the line of duty were involved in car crashes while not wearing a seat belt, according to Assistant Police Chief Kevin Davis.

In the most recent case, Officer Adrian Morris, 23, was killed while in a high-speed chase on Interstate 95 in August. As Morris swerved to avoid other cars, the cruiser flipped several times, ejecting him from the vehicle and causing severe head injuries. Morris was not wearing a seat belt at the time.

"As a profession, law enforcement spends so much time training on potential deadly scenarios ... but we don't do a good enough job training and retraining and emphasizing the necessity to drive safely," said Davis, who co-chairs a committee on highway traffic safety with the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association.

Nationally, more than four of every 10 officers killed in car crashes between 1980 and 2008 weren't wearing seat belts at the time of their collisions, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association.

Maryland police officials are preparing a campaign to help local departments convince cops to buckle up and prevent deaths in what should be survivable crashes, according to Tom Gianni, chief of the Maryland Highway Safety Office.

"Each department has a seat belt policy, but for whatever reason, officers choose not to abide by that," Gianni said. "We want to address those reasons why."

Maryland and D.C. police are required by law to wear seat belts while in their cruisers. Virginia is one of 10 states that exempt officers from seat belt laws while in the line of duty, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend.

Davis said he's heard all the reasons why cops shouldn't have to buckle up -- including arguments about how it takes too long to get out of a cruiser when wearing a seat belt.

"I reject all of those arguments as absurd. They're excuses, and they've been accepted for too long," Davis said. "It doesn't take but a split second to buckle and unbuckle a seat belt."

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

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