Affirmative Distraction: Police need to watch the road just like the rest of us


Roads-2-Roam is appalled at the literal ‘get out of jail’ laws that allow US police officers to kill civilians by distracted driving and face no prosecution to the same laws of the road that apply to the rest of us.

We advocate Police need a clear policy to ‘Protect and Serve’ instead of ‘Text and Swerve’

The recent case which got our attention was a Los Angeles County Deputy, Andrew Wood, who was texting into his “Mobile Digital Computer” while driving. This caused Deputy Wood to drift into a bike lane and rear end cyclist Milton Olin Jr, a former A&M Records and Napster executive. [See DailyNew article] “Peace” Officer Wood was apparently responding back to a colleague who was asking if a fire investigation at a high school had been completed. Investigation into the incident showed that “Peace” officer Woods had been recently texting his wife from his private phone but supposedly, it had not contributed to any of Wood’s inattention. What is worse is Wood’s statement where he claimed “Olin had drifted out of the bike lane” which later was found out to be untrue. Per the DailyNews, this is how one of LA County’s finest got off:

“Since Wood was acting within the course and scope of his duties when he began to type his response, under Vehicle Code section 23123.5, he acted lawfully.” The law does not prohibit officers from using an electronic wireless communications device in the performance of their duties, according to the letter. Furthermore, prosecutors said it was “reasonable” that Wood would have felt that an immediate response was necessary so that a Calabasas deputy wouldn’t unnecessarily respond to the high school. To establish the crime of vehicular manslaughter, prosecutors would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Wood was criminally negligent. While GPS records show the deputy was driving three miles per hour over the speed limit prior to the collision, investigators could not determine his speed at the time of impact.

The problem is California law section 23123.5 banning texting-while-driving, but one section makes an exception for emergency services professionals, (i.e. California’s finest) : (e) This section does not apply to an emergency services professional using an electronic wireless communications device while operating an authorized emergency vehicle, as defined in Section 165, in the course and scope of his or her duties. gives some inputs about Police guidelines and training:

According to the Sheriff’s Department’s own policies and procedures involving the operation of a vehicle, “members shall always employ defensive driving techniques to avoid or prevent a collision” and shall not operate vehicles “in an unsafe or negligent manner.” In mobile digital competency tests, employees are also reminded “to use caution” while operating an MDC and that “distracted driving is inherently unsafe,” according to training documents provided by the Sheriff’s Department.

Roads-2-Roam is cynical on LA County District Attorney Office on their decision not to prosecute. From the LA Times:

Prosecutors said Wood acted lawfully because he was acting within the course and scope of his duties when he was typing. Attorney Bruce Broillet said the Olin’s family plans to move forward with a wrongful death lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Department. “Once again we see the government protecting its own,” Broillet said in a statement. Since the crash, the department has apologized to Olin’s family in a public statement and Wood has transferred from patrol to an assignment in the department’s court services division.

A true independent investigation would have questioned why a question about a fire investigation was indeed such an “emergency” that required immediate response. Surely, any emergency would be called in by the Police Dispatcher

This however, is not a problem isolated to California. Lets look at Texas: In 2010, The Statesman reports that an Austin Police Officer ran a stop sign and hit a 71 year old motorcyclist. The reason being was that the officer was entering information into his laptop. Similar ‘get out of jail’ exemptions as California State law existed at that time.

The city passed a texting-while-driving ban and exempted the Austin Police Department, according to the lawsuit, but Watts said this exemption should be saved for emergency purposes only. “My question is, why are we exempting police from something that so clearly distracts them and is a danger to all of us?” Watts said. Police told media outlets that Dunn was placed on administrative leave during the investigation of the crash. Police refused to comment on the case Monday, citing the ongoing suit. Lawyers for the City of Austin did not return calls Monday afternoon. The dashboard video released by police shows Dunn leaving a residential area, traveling through an intersection and striking Olivier, who was wearing a helmet.

Austin eventually paid out $250,000 in compensation and policies for APD were changed.

NBC5 investigated the Austin incident further where they include an interview with the motorcyclist Louis Oliver, and showed a wider Texas Law Officer problem of distracted driving, using greater DFW as an example. By NBC5’s accounts, there were “at least 70 crashes in 24 months” in Texas where their report shows one Tarrant County Police car run a red light and ploughed into a car going straight on their green light. At least the Tarrant County PoPo has a policy that this is NOT allowed and the red light runner was “disciplined” (whatever that was..) but many DFW Finest do not. The example given was Arlington which allowed Police to input of data while driving while at the same time, it is was one of the few Metroplex districts prohibiting the public from doing so. The NBC5 video also showed example of cops routinely driving while distracted. Particularly galling was the hubris of Arlington Mayor, Robert Cluck, making out that it is not a problem in his district.

I think we’ve had three incidents – minor collisions with officers in the last two or three years,” where police officers were, “Doing something on the computer.” Cluck said he had no problem with officers typing and driving at the same time, because his city’s cops were well trained to avoid crashes.

“I’m sorry it happened in other cities. It hasn’t happened in Arlington,” he said in that interview which NBC5 aired in July as part of an investigation into serious crashes caused by computer distractions in police cars.

“I just think our officers are above the fray there,” he said.

Tarrant County Sheriff on the other hand did not agree and indicated that distracted driving is in some ways equivalent to driving while intoxicated.

After that interview, NBC 5 Investigates filed an open records request with the Arlington Police Department to see the full number of crashes involving computers. There were 18 crashes in 3 years.

Kierra Holland was sitting at a stoplight when an Arlington police officer making a left turn slammed right into her. “I was looking right at him the whole time and he wasn’t looking and I did this”, she said waiving her arms. “I started doing this like don’t hit me,” Holland said. “Anybody I told it to were like what? Arlington Police Department? Yes, Arlington Police Department they hit my car.” According to the police report, the officer would later tell accident investigators “he was typing and looking down at his mobile data computer (MDC) and turned the corner to (sic) sharp to the left.” Fortunately for Holland it was a low speed crash. She had her daughter in the back seat, who was three years old at the time. Holland said she believed the crash could have been worse. “He wouldn’t have seen anybody crossing that street because he wasn’t looking the whole time,” Holland Said. “I was looking right at him – I could see right through the car and he was not looking up.”

You should read the second NBC5 report to get insight into Mayor Cluck. Apparently he is STILL adamant it is safe for police to drive while distracted.

However, the police of chief (who had previously declined to speak to NBC5 but Cluck did) has changed the policy.

What about other areas in the US?

This 2014 Fox report show a problem in the Denver area:

On-duty police officers blowing through red lights, driving too fast and smashing into innocent bystanders. An exclusive FOX31 Denver investigation uncovered a widespread pattern of traffic accidents caused by distracted on-duty officers.

We only counted incidents where police officers were “at fault” and were disciplined in the past three years. We found:

– Denver police documented at least 308 of those cases.
— Adams County deputies dented and smashed their way to 53.
— Aurora police racked up about 80 preventable accidents.
— Colorado State Troopers damaged their cars or injured a citizen 219 times.

The most egrerioius case being one of Satara Tucker who was hit in Boulder after a police cruiser cut in front of her.

The video shows the police car turning left, then a body bouncing across the hood and into the street in front of the his headlights. A red Jamis Dakota bicycle tumbles down the middle of the street close behind.

“I have nothing against the cop that hit me,” Tucker said. “Just how they handled it was horrible.Tucker said she is upset because she has medical bills from the accident including injuries to her back, leg and hip. ”…

…She says she called the police department a few days later to ask about them paying for her bent bike handle bars and some medical bills she incurred after the accident.

Instead of getting helpful advice or an apology, Boulder police sent her a $50 citation in the mail for failing to have a light on her bicycle.

A sister Fox station in Minneapolis-St.Paul showed pattern:

..Gerhartz no longer has that false sense of security. Last November, after leaving the scene of a routine stop, he started typing some notes into in his squad computer. He ran a stop sign and smashed into an SUV injuring an elderly couple.

Ohio? Same problem.

This has to stop. The police are public servants not a public menace.

Let’s get them back to protect and serve NOT Type and swerve.

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