Patrolling in the cold winter environment can be accomplished safely with knowledge and planning; however, policing can be unpredictable, and officer can find themselves exposed to the harsh winter elements while performing their duties.
Risk Factors for Cold Weather Stress
- Getting wet (sweating or perspiring wearing the vest and then exposed to the outdoor winter weather for extended periods)
- Improperly dressed for cold weather (Don’t rush out to a call without your winter gear)
- Preexisting health problems: hypertension, diabetes, poor physical conditioning, etc.
The wind chill can dramatically reduce the outdoor temperatures.
“Wind chill is the temperature your body feels when air temperature and wind speed are combined. For example, when the air temperature is 40°F, and the wind speed is 35 mph, the effect on the exposed skin is as if the air temperature was 28°F” (OSHA, 2015, p. 1).
“Cold stress occurs by driving down the skin temperature and eventually the internal body temperature (core temperature). This may lead to serious health problems, and may cause tissue damage, and possibly death” (OSHA, 2015, p. 1).
Cold Weather Stress on the Body
- Trench Foot (OSHA, 2015).
Winter Patrol Dress and Gear
What you wear matters. Cotton fabric loses its insulation when it becomes damp or wet (OSHA, 2015). Better winter fabric to wear is wool, silk, and synthetics in wet winter climate because these fabrics will retain their insulation properties even when they are damp or wet (OSHA), 2015.
It is best to layer your clothing when possible. Layering provides good insulation qualities. Wear a hat or hood to help keep your whole body warmer (OSHA, 2015). Body heat escapes rapidly from your head so wear a hat or have a knitted style hat available in your patrol vehicle (OSHA, 2015).
Keep your cell phone charged just as a precaution.
Make sure your patrol vehicle has an ample supply of blankets. You never know if a winter traffic accident victim is properly dressed and you might find they have been exposed to the cold winter elements and succumbing to winter weather stress.
Check on the Homeless
The homeless population in your jurisdiction can be vulnerable to winter elements and unexpected drops in temperature. If you have access to hand-me-down winter clothing, you might want to add this to your winter patrol vehicle kit. You might just save a life.
Many police officers go out of their way to check on less fortunate citizens they encounter. It is not uncommon for a police officer to reach into their own pocket and spend their personal money to provide comfort to a citizen in need. Be a good citizen and check in on your officers when you see them in the community this winter.
A big smile and thank you might just be the warmth and motivation to help your police officers through the winter storm. Working with our police we make our communities safe for all.
Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). (2015). United States Department of Labor. Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/emergencypreparedness/guides/cold.html
About the Author
Dr. Mark Bond worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms trainer for more than 34 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state, and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a BS and MS in Criminal Justice, and M.Ed in Educational Leadership with Summa Cum Laude Honors. Mark has a Doctor of Education (Ed.D) with a concentration in college teaching and learning. Mark is currently an associate professor of criminal justice at a university and adjunct professor of administration of justice studies at a community college.