It's impossible to know how many of those officers could have been saved if they had buckled up, although one study says officers were nearly three times more likely to die in car crashes with their belts off.Overall, more than 2/3 of Texas police officer deaths on the job stem from traffic accidents, a state senate committee was told last year. (The other major cause of officer deaths is suicide - a total which dwarfs the number of traffic accidents and shootings combined.)
But officers and administrators say police culture can sometimes discourage their use.
Some officers worry that their belts could hinder them if they have to exit quickly to confront a suspect — a seat belt can easily get tangled on a holster. Others fret they'll be unable to control violent prisoners while buckled up.
Police-related Internet forums offer tricks for disabling seat belt alarms and for avoiding supervisors who monitor belt usage by officers on patrol.
“The average police officer thinks most cops get killed by felons, and that's not true. Cops are getting killed in traffic accidents,” said Richard Ashton, who studies traffic safety for the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “Officers don't think it can happen to them.”
During the past three years, 16 Texas police officers were shot to death, but 18 died in car and motorcycle crashes.
In addition to putting officers' lives at risk, police failing to use their seatbelts undermines their credibility with the public. This widespread acceptance among law enforcement of colleagues who flaunt the law on seatbelt use appears hypocritical in this age of "click it or ticket" media campaigns.
Officers told Mendoza they had good reasons for not using a seatbelt, but civilian drivers can make excuses too and that won't get them out of a ticket. Instead, the real reason so many cops don't use seatbelts is simple: They know other cops, including their supervisors, not only won't call them on it but will make excuses to the media if they're ever criticized for the practice. The attitude seems to be "seat belts for thee but not for me."