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Two police accidents killed 2 officers and seriously injured another over a 2 day span in October; Incidents highlight serious risk to police, who are exempt from NY 's seatbelt laws

Schumer, Tokasz, and Buffalo Police Commissioner Rocco Diina to urge Justice Department to study feasibility of safer quick-release seat belt device

Standing outside the Veridien Corporation in Cheektowaga, Senator Charles Schumer and NYS Assembly Majority Leader Paul Tokasz today asked the US Justice Department to fund a study into the feasability of developing a quickrelease seat belt device for police vehicles. Veridian is working to develop an automatic seat belt release that would allow officers to reach their weapons or exit the vehicle more quickly in an emergency. They were joined by Buffalo Police Commissioner Rocco Diina and Cheektowaga Police Chief Christine Ziemba.

"Right now, officers have an impossible choice to make very day when they get into their cruisers: Either they buckle up and hamper their ability to leave their car in a hurry to pursue a suspect - something that endangers all of us - or they don't buckle up and endanger themselves," Schumer said. "The bottom line is that officers shouldn't have to sacrifice their personal safety in order to respond quickly to an emergency. With a little creative thinking, we should be able to supply them with the tools they need to stay safe behind the wheel without worrying whether they can perform on the job."

"It is our hope that by providing police officers with an easier way out of the patrol car in an emergency," said Tokasz, "these brave men and women will be more likely to buckle up when they drive."

Last October, two police officers were killed and another seriously injured in two car accidents over a twoday period. On October 29, Cheektowaga Police Detective Wasyl Potienko was killed when his unmarked police car was hit by a recycling truck and was thrown into the path of an oncoming pickup truck. The very next day, Buffalo Police Officer James A. Shields died and his partner, Kimberly A. Monteforte, was seriously injured when their patrol car hit a tree while they were in pursuit of two robbers. None of the officers were wearing their seat belts.

Although policies differ from department to department, police officers are exempt from New York State's mandatory seat belt law. While they encourage officers to wear seat belts, neither the Cheektowaga nor Buffalo Police Departments require seat belt use. Many officers do not wear seat belts because they are concerned about being able to easily exit their vehicles without the belt getting caught on their equipment.

A quickrelease seat belt could make it easier for officers to reach their weapons or exit the vehicle in an emergency, and it would encourage officers to use a seat belt more often.

Tokasz has been working with Veridian to explore the possibility of creating an automatic seat belt release when the vehicle is placed in park. Veridian, known primarily for its work on national security and intelligence programs for the US Department of Defense, also works extensively with automobile manufacturers around the world to create safer vehicles.

Schumer is now lending his support to the effort and is lobbying the Justice Department for federal funding to study the feasibility of such a seat belt system. Specifically, he will lobby the US Justice Department to provide federal funds from its Science and Technology and InvestigatorInitiated Research grant programs to study the feasability of the quickrelease seat belt device.

"The seat belt should be in the car to protect the officers' safety. The more the belt gets in the way of the officers doing their job, the less likely they will be to put the belt on and the more likely they will suffer an injury if they end up in an accident. It doesn't need to be that way," Schumer said. "We give police officers bullet proof vests to protect them in case they have to use their weapons. We should give them no less protection if they're in a high speed car chase."

"This concept would provide police officers with a level of comfort when exiting a vehicle in emergency situations," Tokasz said, "and ultimately make them feel more comfortable wearing a seat belt."