Living in South Dakota, we are very aware of the diversity of our weather. Winter especially can be brutal – icy roads create dangerous driving conditions that can lead to an increase in vehicle accidents, while frigid temperatures can quickly cause hypothermia or other serious health issues. The combination of these factors create a perfect storm of potentially dangerous challenges for our public safety personnel.
Clark County is located in northeast South Dakota and has an area of approximately 980 square miles. There are only three of us employed at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. It seems that when extreme weather strikes, we get called to the most remote areas of the county. It is important for people to understand that it takes time to get to a call, especially when the weather is bad. We do try to respond as quickly as we can, but officer safety is critical in these situations. As I often tell my deputies, you cannot do any good or help anyone if you don’t get there.
Here are tips learned over the years for policing in extreme cold weather:
1. Dress for the weather:
It’s important for personnel to dress for more than just a walk to the car. Officers can find themselves responding to an incident that unexpectedly leaves them outside for an extended period of time. Insulated boots and gloves, wool socks, thermal layers, long underwear and jackets are all effective in helping to stay warm.
2. Ensure patrol cars are outfitted for the elements:
Even when roads are deemed too dangerous for most, law enforcement and other first responders still have to drive. Planning ahead is important. Use your imagination and prepare for the worst. That means making sure patrol cars or emergency vehicles are stocked with snow tires and chains, jumper cables, a tow rope, shovel and flares in the event the vehicle gets stuck. Keep your fuel tank full. Keep extra batteries readily available for items like your flashlight as cold weather drains batteries faster When traveling, have a winter survival kit with you, a cellphone charger, extra warm clothes, a blanket or sleeping bag. This might account for our patrol vehicles occasionally looking weighted down.
3. Use technology to your advantage:
Some instances give law enforcement little choice but to remain outside for extended periods of time. However, the right technology can significantly cut the time spent outside. We use CentralSquare Field Ops on our smart phones. It has been a very useful program that gives us advanced notifications of calls that we are going on. Field Ops provides the incident locations along with map features. It also enables us to know which responders from neighboring agencies are available if needed.
The first bouts of extreme cold weather have already swept most of the country. As a law enforcement agency, it’s important for your community that your personnel are prepared to face the elements safely.
Sheriff Robert McGraw serves as sheriff in Clark County, South Dakota.