Traffic Brights

New lime-green jackets improve visibility for Haltom City officers (Texas)
March 16, 2004

By Sarah Bahari, Star-Telegram Staff Writer
(This article republished here by kind permission of the Star Telegram and Ms. Bahari. All photographs copyright © Star Telegram)

Radar gun in hand, Haltom City police Sgt. Tony Veltre leaned forward on his police motorcycle. Watching cars and trucks whiz past, he sat ready to pull over unsuspecting traffic violators.

But on a clear day, an attentive driver could have spotted him from nearly a mile away. Veltre’s new dark-colored jacket with ultra-reflective lime-green patches is hard to miss.

“Visibility is everything for a motor officer,” Veltre said. “The old leather vest may be traditional, but as far as safety goes, they’re not as good as these.”

Street safety has long been a concern for traffic officers. But departments are taking more measures to keep officers safe, in part because of better technology.

In September, a new state law went into effect that requires drivers approaching a stopped emergency vehicle to move out of the closest lane or drop 20 mph below the posted speed limit.

“Obviously, a lot of departments are concerned about this,” said Jack Grant of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “Anything the officer can do to increase his visibility is going to help.”

Sgt. Tony Veltre

More officers have been killed in accidents, including traffic stops, than any other way, Grant said.

In the last ten years, 154 officers were killed nationwide in traffic accidents while they were outside their police vehicles, usually helping another driver, directing traffic, issuing a ticket or responding to an accident. And in those ten years, 13 officers died that way in Texas, including one in Fort Worth in 1993.

Police Officer Alan Chick, 34, was helping a motorist Dec. 22, 1993, when a drunk driver struck him. He died five days later.

About three years ago, the Fort Worth Police Department began issuing reflective jackets to rookie officers, traffic Capt. Harry Jones said.

The jacket looks like a regular blue vest, but it reflects light, Jones said. The department would like every officer to wear one. Each officer also receives a fluorescent orange vest for directing traffic.

In Arlington, police officers are required to wear lime-green reflective vests when they direct traffic but not during routine traffic stops, traffic Lt. Pat Bridges said.

Some officers say the reflective jackets can be too bulky or stuffy and are not practical for hot summer days.

The clothing can also be pricey. The Haltom City Police Department purchased five jackets for $300 each.
Officer Cody Phillips
In Grapevine, officers wear the jackets to direct traffic or work accidents but not during traffic stops. Sgt. Bob Murphy said that although finances are always a concern, “we try not to put limits on things of safety.”

Area police officers said they pay attention to new safety research and ideas and often evaluate their procedures.

About six months ago, the International Association of Chiefs of Police formed a committee to research street safety for traffic officers, Grant said. The committee is looking at where officers park police vehicles, where they stand and what they wear. It is also studying their vehicles’ lights and the time of day, and it plans to make recommendations in the next year.

Although safety advances have been made, police say, officers still have to be aware of their surroundings.

“I can’t think of how many times I’ve been out on the freeway and an 18-wheeler has zipped right by and almost knocked me into the street,” Murphy said. “You’ve just got to be prepared for it.”

Veltre said his reflective jacket makes him feel safer, but he knows that it won’t protect him against everything.

“I don’t think that just because of this vest, people won’t hit me,” he said. “It’s not 100 percent. I have to watch out for myself.”