How 6 ‘rules’ from a Navy legend can impact officer safety

We can learn a lot about safety from Admiral Hyman Rickover, the Father of the Nuclear Navy


Several years ago, I discovered Admiral Hyman G. Rickover and his views on safety and training. While he was not in law enforcement, there is no doubt that his philosophy can make everyone in our profession safer.

Admiral Rickover — known as the Father of Nuclear Navy — spent 63 years in the United States Navy and served under 13 presidents. Take a minute to let those numbers sink in.

Admiral Rickover is associated with myriad historical events — all of which merit discussion and contemplation — but today I’d like to examine what have become known as Rickover’s Rules. It was these rules that contributed to his very successful safety record.

You must have a rising standard of quality over time, well beyond what is required by any minimum standard. This may be one of the largest problems that law enforcement faces. Why do we do it that way? The joke is because we always have and that joke is no longer funny. We must always be looking for better ways of doing business.

If you’re training like you did a decade ago, there may be a problem.

I’m not an advocate of change just for the sake of it, but there is far too much being done just because that is how the last person did it.

Most emergency vehicle operation courses were born out of our racing schools, which are predominantly skill-based. While skills are important, we know today that decision-making is equally important. I’m continually amazed when I see training programs refuse to change or do much more than the minimum standards.

Way too often in law enforcement we’ve heard the phrase, “What’s the minimum standard?”

If we truly want safety for our officers — and we do — then that phrase should be banished from our vocabulary.

People running complex systems should be highly capable. I’ve often heard that police work is easy — “It’s just common sense.”

While it does require a great deal of common sense, we should never mistake that for easy. Law enforcement is complex and we task our officers with more today than ever before. Technology has helped us do our jobs but it has also made aspects more technical.

We must take the hiring, academy training, and in-service training very seriously if we expect our employees to be highly capable.

You have to look no further than the inside of a patrol car to see how complex our job has become. The interior of a police car could easily be mistaken for a spaceship and it’s that complexity that demands a highly capable officer.

Supervisors have to face bad news when it comes and take problems to a level high enough to fix those problems. There is no shortage of bad police supervision and leadership and when it comes to training, we often wait too long to deal with an obvious problem.

If a recruit is having issues or behavior problems, those problems don’t necessarily go away after training. We must deal with those issues and correct them on a continual and ongoing basis.

You must have a healthy respect for the dangers and risks of your particular job. Law enforcement is risky by nature, and the consequences for not doing the right things can be dramatic. We must continually do risk assessments on the jobs we ask our officers to do.

What areas are the most dangerous, and are we doing all that we can to mitigate those risks? To prevent the consequences of unchecked risks, we must act, and acting is all about training.

Training must be constant and rigorous. In the words of my good friend Gordon Graham, “Every day must be a training day.”

We must get out of our mind that training consists of a few days a year at the local training venue. Our training needs to occur on a regular basis with a variety of methods. Technology has enabled us to watch a video, email articles, and discuss on Facebook — we must utilize that technology to truly make each day an opportunity for training.

Organizations and members thereof must have the ability and willingness to learn mistakes of the past. There are no new ways to die, get hurt, get sued, or get fired in our profession. What we must do is learn from the mistakes of our past. This is not easy and our profession does not do well in this area. It takes courage to accept our past transgressions, but if we are willing, our safety will no doubt improve.

In Conclusion...
Admiral Rickover may have spent an unprecedented time in the Navy, but that doesn’t mean he was popular. He regularly took others — even his superiors —to task when he saw a lack of accountability or lack of training. He was dogmatic in his approach and he settled for nothing near the required minimum.

We can learn much from Rickover. For the safety of law enforcement, we should adhere to those lessons. 

About the author

Major Travis Yates is a Commander with the Tulsa (OK) Police Department. His Seminars in Risk Management & Officer Safety have been taught across the United States & Canada. Major Yates has a Master of Science Degree in Criminal Justice and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy. He is the Director of Training for SAFETAC Training and the Director of Ten-Four Ministries, dedicated to providing practical and spiritual support to the law enforcement community.

Contact Travis Yates

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