That Run Down Feeling in Wichita
Of course, the Wichita Police Department isn't thrilled with the fact that its officers are mowing down citizens right and left, even if its only three people in five years. It's the sort of thing that creates a division in the community, where people get miffed at losing loved ones to cops speeding around for no particular reason and take out grandpa or some sweet young mother of three. Bad press too.
Since 2007, three people in Wichita have been killed in accidents with officers who were allegedly speeding and did not have their lights and sirens on. The city has paid out $500,000 to settle two lawsuits. A third lawsuit, filed in December, is pending.
Two attorneys representing families of the people killed and one attorney defending one of the officers involved say the department needs to recognize that officers speed and change its policy to allow officers to use lights and sirens more often to warn other motorists.“Why can’t we just acknowledge that there’s a tendency to speed … sometimes a tendency to speed greatly, because they’re out there doing a service?” asked Wichita lawyer Craig Shultz, who represented the family of a person killed in 2007.
On the flip side, cops get to speed at will. Like free donuts, it's a perk of the job, and has been since they were handed the keys to the cruiser and told "have fun out there."
Doesn't it seem like the next line should be "but boys will be boys?"
In reality, they speed.
“We know that officers speed, we don’t like it, and we will aggressively pursue officers that are speeding,” said Lt. Doug Nolte, a department spokesman.
There is no excuse for this to happen. Contrary to most people's assumption, the police aren't authorized to break the law any more than anyone else, and that includes speeding (or running red lights) for fun. If they are on an emergency call, they are authorized to use their lights and siren and exceed the speed limit. If they aren't, then they are supposed to drive just like anyone else. Maybe even better than anyone else, given how badly most people drive.
A rather odd explanation of the use of emergency equipment. While it may be true that lights and sirens are distracting, isn't that what they're supposed to be? The purpose is to alert drivers to an official vehicle engaged in an emergency operation. They don't put lights and sirens on police cruisers so they can speed to the donut shop as soon as fresh crullers hit the shelves.
The department limits the use of lights and sirens because it can distract motorists and officers and cause accidents, Nolte said. Lights and sirens aren’t always effective because sometimes motorists don’t see, hear or heed the equipment, he said.
And sure, some drivers ignore lights and sirens. And some people walk into walls. Is this meant as a justification for speeding without lights and sirens? Is this meant to explain why cops speed for fun?
But all is not lost, as the Wichita Police Department, after careful consideration, has devised a plan to address the situation.
The department wants the public to report officers who are speeding without lights and sirens or driving unsafely, he said.
There are so many ways in which the Department could address the problem, whether from a policy against their officers speeding with a sufficient sanction in place to make it in the cop's interest to slow down, to technological solutions such as GPS or "snapshot" type registers of speed and equipment usage. But instead of doing what they can on their end, they've chosen the pacify the public solution of telling people they should report cops to cops for speeding.
At least they will have a good laugh about it back at the stationhouse, but the problem remains that cops speed:
One of the root problems is that “police routinely speed,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a University of South Carolina professor of criminology who has studied traffic issues for 20 years. In a world where police don’t get ticketed by fellow officers when they break traffic laws while off-duty, it gives officers a “sense of impunity,” Alpert said.
Apparently, they have a GPS system in place to monitor police driving already:
A lot of departments have GPS capability to check speeds of their patrol cars. “It’s a problem that needs to be monitored,” he said.
The Wichita Police Department uses a countywide system that allows supervisors to check patrol car speeds and officers’ driving, and some officers have been disciplined as a result, Nolte said.
What apparently isn't happening, despite the systems and alleged discipline is that the root problem of police culture, that they can break the law with impunity, has not changed. So what if they run down a few people from time to time. Them's the breaks.
There are certain risks inherent in police work, which many refuse to accept and most don't like one bit. But as police perform their function, they are entitled to be defensive rather than allow themselves to be put at risk of harm. As much as people fear the police entering a location where a potentially dangerous suspect may be with their guns drawn, and as experience dictates they should, there is a sound reason for permitting them to do so, and we can only hope they have the training and experience not to pull the trigger first and determine who they're shooting at second.
But there is no excuse for running people down. Much as cops consider the right to speed a perk of the job, killing people for the sake of your convenience is just plain stupid and sick. That Wichita shifts the duty to the public, as if there is any chance of that changing things, is foolish and reflects a lack of concern and respect for their citizens.
If they want to stop improper speeding by cops, just do it. This is public pacification, which will last only until they run down the next person.