DATELINE:  Friday, March 27, 2020, 1917 hours – Pikeville, NC

A North Carolina Highway Patrol Trooper died after losing control of his car on I-795 near exit 22 at mile marker 19 in Wayne County. The Trooper was killed in a single-vehicle crash.

 

BACKGROUND

Trooper Nolan J. Sanders was a young man of 26 years. He had been with the North Carolina Highway Patrol for five years and was assigned to Troop C, District 2.

From the perspective of a retired cop, Sanders having just passed his five years on the job meant he had just recently graduated from being commonly referred to as a, “rookie.” However, he had not been on the job long enough to get his first longevity check.

I studied his picture and wondered if he was yet old enough to shave on a regular basis.

 

Just a kid.

Look at his mug. He probably still gets carded when he goes to a bar!

Trooper Nolan J Sanders,                E.O.W.  03/27/20

 

Such a horrible loss

 

He hasn’t been on the job long enough to get screwed by his agency and become bitter about it.

In reality, he probably had been screwed by the agency –he just didn’t know it.

Was he a new driver?  No.

Considering that I-795 is a freeway, did the Trooper have prior experience driving on those kinds of roads?  Absolutely, yes.

Sanders leaves behind a young wife and a 7 month old daughter. A daughter who will never know him or the kind of man he was.

From the words of a colleague, “Nolan was an outstanding young man. He was very well-liked by everybody … He brightened the room up anytime he came in. He was willing to go the extra step to help his fellow man.”

 

WERE THE DRIVING CONDITIONS POOR?

No. In fact, they were quite good.

The roads were dry. It was 1917 hours; the sun did not set until 1933. So, it was daylight.

According to a witness who was driving behind Sanders at 1917, the Trooper lost control of his car and crashed into a concrete ditch. The vehicle came to rest on its side. Sanders, got pinned inside his car before several small fires started. Two responding troopers quickly extinguished the flames.

Trooper Nolan J. Sanders was pronounced at the scene; he was DRT.



 

 WHY. HOW. WHAT??

Sanders is a capable and experienced young cop.

Driving conditions were near perfect: it was daylight on dry pavement.

The vehicle crashed into a concrete ditch.  Was the ditch new?   No.

Sanders was NOT speeding and he was NOT responding to a call for service.

 

WHAT – OR WHO – IS TO BLAME FOR THE DEATH OF OUR BROTHER?

 This is a topic that is a real hot-button issue for this cop. I refer you to an article that I authored, “Funerals are Cheaper Than Training” which was published last week on 03/24/20.

In that article, I share my observations and opinion about the explosion of technology in today’s police cars which has come WITHOUT the training necessary for cops to use it safely.

It is getting our Brothers and Sisters killed. Period.

Trooper Nolan J. Sanders is simply the most recent.

Let me describe a possible scenario that may have gone on inside Sander’s car.

  • If the car has ALPR, the system alerted on a nearby vehicle. Sanders reads the ALPR screen to find out more about the hit and decides to run it.
  • Alternately, Sanders simply spotted a car that he wanted to know more about prior to making a stop. So, he runs it.
  • Since every state has their own type of information systems, this humble scribe cannot know exactly how many places the vehicle tag information had to be entered. (Here in Florida it could have been twice: FCIC and DAVID, separately.)
  • The return on the vehicle and the registered driver come back. Depending on the situation, it can be dozens of lines of text on a computer screen which the cop must scan (or read) while driving.

If Sanders decided to make the stop, the process continues.

  • He must use his department radio to advise dispatch that he is about to make a stop along with the tag info, type of vehicle, number of occupants and the location. Of course, he must silence the car stereo first.
  • He picks a spot for the stop, lights up the subject vehicle and then remembers to turn on all applicable camera systems – vehicle and body.
  • By this time, his zone partner is sending him a text on his cell phone asking if he wants backup … which the cop answers.

This is an abbreviated task list which is performed in order for that Trooper to consider and then effect a ‘simple’ traffic stop.

Keeping cops safe while they use all of this gear requires that we pay attention to the details:

  • Does he have the RIGHT KIND of gear? Reference the computer – is it a mobile computer meant for a car or a laptop that’s been pressed into service as a substitute for the real thing?
  • Is the computer on a solid mount which is adjusted the right height for this cop?
  • Have the screen fonts been set for easy reading by this officer? We don’t want them squinting or struggling to read text while driving.

These are just three items of a fairly long list of issues to examine. Many such decisions are made by city/county purchasing agents who have never spent one hour working inside a patrol car. All they are interested in is getting the lowest price.

  • Do we spend time teaching and reinforcing safe ways that an officer CAN drive and safely use a computer for many simple tasks?
  • Do they get regular updates and reminders about this skill?
  • Have we taught them how they can complete intricate reports (like a crash report) on their mobile computer while maintaining their situational awareness?
  • When the vehicle software is updated, do we make sure to give the cops ample time and space to practice with new features BEFORE they go live?
  • Do we train our cops so that they can choose type fonts on their computers that work best for them, along with adjusting the size for their personal preference?
  • During EVO (a/k/a driving) training, are they being tested on driving and using a mobile computer the same way they do on the street?  Or (more likely) are they trained in de-commissioned vehicles with no computer, no radio, no cameras and none of the other tech items they will handle constantly when on duty?

Using technology in public, on the street is NOT the same as using a computer at home or in the report room. If nothing else, they are a HUGE DISTRACTION from … driving.

Every one of us has dealt with distracted drivers. We give warnings. We write tickets.

Occasionally, we must call for a rig to take the body away.

Sadly, when Trooper Nolan Sanders started his shift last Friday, he could not have known that he would be at the scene of a fatal accident that day.

His own.

Scene of the crash

EPILOGUE

 Should General Orders forbid using the tech gear while the vehicle is moving? Save your time. It won’t work. Guys will use the computer constantly because they must use it in order to save lives. Studies show that the computer is the most used tool by patrol cops, nationally.

This is a quote from North Carolina:   “Our SHP family is devastated by the loss of Trooper Nolan Sanders this evening,” said commander of the State Highway Patrol, Colonel Glenn M. McNeill, Jr.

“Trooper Sanders personified what it meant to be a Trooper, his passing will leave a lasting mark on all that had the honor to work together with him. The coming days and weeks will prove to be difficult, but we will stand with the Sanders family throughout this difficult process.”

Law Enforcement leaders all say something similar when faced with the loss of one of us. Now’s the time to put your money where your mouth is. Or, will it be shown once again that, ‘Funerals are Cheaper Than Training’ ??

We must train, train and train some more.

We must instill new habits so that Street Cops learn how to drive AND use the tech gear safely. They also must intuitively know when it’s time to leave the tech gear alone, and fight the battle at hand.

It is past time to stop needlessly killing our Brothers and Sisters. Now is the time.

 “Above all, it’s about going home at the end of the shift … “

We couldn’t agree more.

 


 

Jim enjoys hearing from his readers – EMAIL

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