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Hillsborough Award Shows Value, Uniqueness of ‘Slower is Faster’ 

By Scott Mooneyham, NCLM Director of Public Affairs

That the Hillsborough Police Department recently won a national award for its police driver safety program should come as no surprise. It was the excellence of the program that led to the League’s Risk Management Services partnering with the department four years ago to take the Slower is Faster program statewide.

Surprise or not, the award is significant. The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund’s Destination Zero program recognizes safety and wellness initiatives that help reduce officer injuries and deaths. The other three departments receiving the awards this year are among some of the nation’s largest local law enforcement agencies: the New York Police Department, the San Diego Police Department and the Fairfax County, Va., Police Department. Hillsborough employs 27 sworn officers, protecting 6,300 residents.

Hillsborough Town Manager Eric Peterson is quick to credit the town’s police officers and Police Chief Duane Hampton for the award. "Really, it was an honor to represent the HPD and Town of Hillsborough in Washington, DC, with Chief Hampton. The HPD officers deserve all the credit because they’ve been the ones making suggestions for the past 16 years on how to improve the program and, ultimately, driving safe and using excellent judgment when under stress for all these years," Peterson said. "The award also really highlights the League’s efforts, as there is not another risk management pool in the country that provides such a high level of support, commitment, and training for its member agencies."

But to a large degree, the development of the Hillsborough’s initial program – starting in 2000 – is the result of Peterson’s involvement in motorsports, specifically Sports Car Club of America autocross races. Peterson in 2014 won a SCCA national championship, which features both dragstrip-type competition and individual timed road course-type competition. In 1999, Peterson applied his racing know-how by coordinating a driver safety course as a part of a team-building exercise for Town of Hillsborough department heads. As a result, then-Police Chief Nathaniel Eubanks asked Peterson to design a driver safety school for his department.

Since 2000, the department has operated the police driver training program at sites in Virginia. As the department’s insurer (and that of 205 other police departments), the League’s Risk Management Services was there early on. In 2010, the League teamed with Peterson to produce a video for departments statewide to encourage safer driving practices by officers. Then, starting in 2013, the League RMS used Hillsborough’s program as a model to create a two-day seminar for departments statewide, with a "train-the-trainer" approach designed to allow officers to take the lessons back to their departments.

"Eric has a great passion for this," said Bryan Leaird, RMS Director of Field Services. "From a Risk Management Services perspective, we saw how this could reduce accidents."

League RMS held its fourth two-day police driver training session in June at the Charlotte Motor Speedway complex, with 20 departments participating. After a day of classroom instruction, the driving portion of the program focuses on decision-making, creating situations where officers must make decisions while in different scenarios, and putting different distractions in front of them. The key, though, is to try to get officers to slow down and think as they make those decisions. At times, instructors will stand beside the course holding signs with reminders, such as "Breathe."

Reducing police accidents means saving lives, reducing injuries and saving taxpayer money. For Hillsborough, the result has been just three at-fault serious collisions since 2000. For the state-level League program, 78 officers from 62 departments have participated. Those departments participating during the first two years saw a 17 percent reduction in vehicle claims.

Peterson says of the League’s effort taking the program statewide, "The results have been encouraging so far with the reduction of claims and more agencies starting to train. Plus, it’s been great getting officers from so many different agencies together to learn from one another."

But he also wants to see more police departments take advantage of the opportunity. "It’s easy for important issues to get lost in the daily demands. But I believe managers and elected officials would find ways to fund training if they had a better understanding of the complexity of police driving, the severe demands placed on officers, and how much the need for more driver awareness is costing their organizations and communities in terms of money, injuries and fatalities," Peterson said. "So, I encourage the law enforcement community to help inform and educate their mayors, councils, and city and county managers to make them aware of the opportunity they have to make a difference."