Addressing the 'Cobra Effect' in your agency
Have you ever seen your department attempt to solve a problem but the effort to do so actually worsened it?
This is known as the Cobra Effect, and it originated in colonial India when the British Government offered a reward for every dead Cobra in an effort to reduce the number of those deadly snakes.
While successful at first, Indians began to breed them for profit and when this was realized, the rewards were cancelled. Without a profit, breeders released the snakes and what was intended as a solution became more of a problem.
Through the years, I have often referred to failed leadership when it comes to the lack of training in emergency vehicle operations. As I speak to officers and trainers across the country, I have realized that our profession lacks training not because those officers and trainers don't want it but because those that are responsible for them, have failed miserably in providing the training.
It is a remarkable fact that in the face of yet another year of roadway incidents leading the cause of line of duty deaths and injuries, that so many just don't get it or care enough to pursue what we know works...training.
Despite so many failures in this area, we have many true leaders in our profession that have stepped up to make a difference — leaders such as Las Vegas Sheriff Doug Gillespie who bravely stood in a press conference and told the world that “we must accept the fact that we have a problem” when it comes to driving.
His words sounded an alarm with many others, and since that press conference there have been many positive examples of leadership in this area including a series of training classes recently hosted by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
As we see more leadership waking up, we also continue to see department policies and practices that contribute to unsafe behaviors by our first line officers. What may have made sense at one time should be reevaluated and often thrown away in light of the epidemic we are in with deadly roadway incidents.
I first saw the inherent danger in this practice over a decade ago when a commander used to send the response times down to the officers and use red ink to highlight the officers he thought took too long to arrive on a scene. While there may have been a few that had issues, the majority did not and when you acknowledge that the cop behind the wheel has no control where they are when the call comes in or they can't control traffic, the publishing of response times is silly at best.
In a profession with a bunch of type a personalities that all want to be first place, it takes nothing more than this practice to get everyone to do one thing....drive faster. We work in a profession where approximately half of our deadly collisions involve one vehicle running off the roadway. The last thing we need is a department practice encouraging those behind the badge to drive even faster.
The days are gone when all we had to worry about in a police car was a notepad and radio. In an effort to “streamline” our work and to make the jobs of America’s finest easier, we have very likely made the job much more dangerous. In the last 24 months, at least 70 emergency vehicle collisions in the State of Texas listed a distraction inside the vehicle as contributing to the cause of the crash.
PoliceOne Editor Doug Wyllie recently wrote about this in a one-second safety lesson and the problem is much worse than we know. As long as our police cars continue to look like spaceships on the inside, we can expect distraction issues if this is not addressed.
I am grateful that our profession has progressed to providing officers with various tools to do the job efficiently and many of those tools provide a safer way of doing business but how that equipment is placed inside the vehicle could mean the difference between minor injuries and more serious injuries in a collision.
A recent officer-involved collision in Michigan produced very minor damage when several deer ran in front of the car. An officer was hurt not from the deer but when his laptop was pushed into his knees.
Whether it is a shotgun in the path of the air bag or a radar unit placed in the line of sight of the driver, there are countless stories of officers being injured due to the improper display of equipment. This issue is particularly dangerous with loose items or aftermarket equipment.
The Florida Highway Patrol currently requires that all installations inside their vehicles withstand 30 Gs to prevent secondary impacts to its troopers during collisions.
How and where equipment is mounted is important as is the regular checking of that mounting.
It may seem like more is better but when it comes to emergency lights, we may create a more dangerous environment the more lights that we use. There are a myriad of opinions on this issue but the trend today including with the California Highway Patrol is that “more is less.”
Once they pull a vehicle over, only four-way flashers and lights to the rear are used. The IACP, Florida Highway Patrol and Arizona DPS have conducted research in this area and a review of their findings would benefit any officer.
These are just a few examples of the Cobra Effect in our agencies and there are certainly others that we can discuss. List your own in the comment section and as a profession let us do whatever we have to in order to limit the unsafe practices that may plague us.