Last week, while enroute to Savannah, Dougherty County police officer Jeremiah Fenn, aged 25, took his eyes off the road for a second to look at his cruiser’s on-board computer screen. In that second, he rear-ended a rental trailer being towed on Interstate 16. The resulting crash killed 33-year old Milton Wilcox and seriously injured his father. Ironically, Officer Fenn was driving to participate in a safe-driving campaign.
While tragic, this incident doesn’t exactly surprise me. Every day I watch as my local municipal, county, and state constabularies drive about town breaking all manner of traffic safety laws, all the while not only expecting you and I to obey the laws unerringly but also to pay the price for failure to do so.
Roughly 90% of the time I drive past a cop, he or she has a cell phone up to their ear busily yapping away on what ostensibly must be personal affairs, since the officer has that wonderful radio and computer uplink system in the car with which to handle official police business. Roughly 90% of the time I see a police officer make a turn or a lane change, their state-of-the-art police cruiser mysteriously lacks turn signals. And as a rule, our law enforcement personnel drive well above the posted speed limits and will mercilessly tailgate you if unable to immediately blow past you.
And the shining example of New Jersey Governor Corzine's state trooper driver doing over 90 mph (and Corzine not wearing a seatbelt) when they crashed all over the Jersey Turnpike.....yeah, that's setting a great example.
So much for leading by example. The unspoken rule is do as I say, not as I do, for I am the law and therefore above the law. This behavior also extends past the on-duty time and extends to their personal driving too. Many officers take their cruisers home and use them to run errands and take the kids to soccer practice and hit Wal-Mart for toilet paper. It’s common knowledge that apartment complexes and smaller housing developments clamor for cops to live there so that the take-home cruisers will act as some sort of miraculous crime deterrent. Some complexes even give discounted rents as an incentive, which to me smacks of a kickback and conflict of interest. But for those who drive their own private vehicles, there exists a sort of Get Out Of Jail Free Card system that a cop can use to identify their vehicles to others of the community so that they can speed and do as they please at will without fear of retribution or consequence. This system consists of specialized Law Enforcement license plates and the omnipresent Thin Blue Line stickers. The stickers are a black rectangle with a royal blue stripe in the center, and occasionally they appear as a front plate too in states that have only a mandated rear plate. In South Carolina, officers can get a thin blue line sticker in the shape of the ubiquitous palmetto tree. How very clever.
In years past, many folks would donate to various police charities just to get a badge-shaped window sticker in hopes that any cops stopping them for a violation would be swayed into letting them go. This same attitude applies to the use of L.E. license plates and TBL stickers. It’s an Old Boy network at the very simplest level; only in the police world it’s called Professional Courtesy. I say, old chap, you wouldn’t give a ticket to a fellow badge that’s “on the job”, would you? That wouldn’t be sporting cricket…On Easter Sunday I had my doors blown off by a giant SUV with North Carolina L.E. tags who was doing about 50 in a 35. By the time we made it to a 50 mph zone, he was doing nearly 65, and only used his turn signals 50% of the time as he weaved in and out of traffic. He then pulled off the road and into the parking lot of a hotel. So this whole attitude of speeding and only following the rules when convenient trickles over into personal time as well as professional time.
As a former law-enforcement professional myself, it saddens me to see this sort of flaunting behavior. And as a CDL-licensed driver who is constantly being lectured to about safe driving and following the rules, I find it especially galling to think that I could be ticketed by people who by far break more laws daily than I could ever dream of.