I’m retired now so I drive like an old person. As soon as I get in a car my shoulders hunch, I shrink about eight inches, my hair turns blue and I maneuver the car by looking under the top of the steering wheel as I speed down the road at a breakneck --18 mph. I spend more time at four way stops, not due to confusion or uncertainty, but because I find it funny pissing-off the other three drivers waiting at the intersection for the ‘old guy’ to make move.
Anyone who knows me well will tell you that entire first paragraph is garbage as I still, unfortunately, drive like a cop: go too fast, brake too quickly, spend not quite the right amount of time at a stop sign, and curse (under my breath) at virtually every other driver on the road as they all are in my way, drive erratically, go too slow, too fast and/or switch lanes insanely.
I bring this up because of something that happened to me a month or so ago. I was out of state teaching and rented a car to get around. As I was listening to the female voice giving me directions in the Australian accent I chose on my GPS, I came to a four way intersection controlled by four stop signs. Being unfamiliar with the area I actually came to a complete stop.
It was about 2 pm and there was a car approaching immediately to my right. The weather was great and I had my window down. As I proceeded I looked at the driver to my right to ensure he was in fact stopping; which he was. Assured that it was my turn I moved about five feet into the intersection when I glanced to my right again – why I don’t know – and that’s when I saw him; a police officer, in a squad, going about 50-60 mph, and, he wasn’t slowing down one little bit.
ZOOM….right through the intersection; overhead lights activated, but no siren, no blast of the air-horn as warning to those in the area. Not a thought about the red octagon on each corner or the vehicles stopped at the intersection, no consideration for cross-traffic or pedestrians.
Now let me tell you how much I hesitated before deciding to write this story; suffice it to say, it was significant. I didn’t want to come across like one of those citizens who spend their free time bitchin’ and moanin’ about lead footed cops. I didn’t want to sound like one of those ‘retired guys’ complaining about a bunch of young whipper-snappers who operate squad cars as though they are NASCAR super stars. But, I thought that not writing this was a lost opportunity especially as our Ultimate Survival Instincts Seminar addresses this issue extensively and I am a huge advocate, and now instructor, for the Below 100 program (www.Below100.com).
Officer Down Memorial Page (odmp.org). Ever since I first discovered that site I have encouraged - with great fervor – that everyone in law enforcement become members and visit it daily. I teach around the country, and most of those courses are seminars designed for officer safety. We talk about spotting predators, using effective street tactics, understanding communication, visualizing real deadly force encounters, etc. Our goals are to make police officers aware of pending felonious assaults and be ready to win them once they begin. A very worthwhile purpose. But, go to odmp.org and check out the stats from the last 30 years. What will you notice when looking at the cause of deaths for law enforcement officers? The majority of them are either getting killed in cars or by some other motor vehicles.
Many may not be preventable: bike cops hit by errant motorists, officers on patrol getting hit by drunk drivers, officers directing traffic or conducting traffic stops killed by vehicle operators paying no attention to the road, the list goes on. And a lost officer is still horrendous, no matter the circumstances or cause of the death.
But the reality is still the reality. There are unquestionably sociopathic maniacs out there who are more than willing to kill cops. There are the lousy drivers, drunk drivers, and dangerous conditions: weather, heat, cold that contribute to the dangers. Getting killed is a risk; we all know that coming in. So why contribute to those odds?
I am an old guy. Thirty years on the job, 18 of them as a supervisor. Naturally, as it should, my perspective of the job evolved over that time. And as a commander I started to recognize the inherent dangers and which of those could be avoided. Car accidents, at least the majority of them, definitely are something that can be avoided.
Don’t get me wrong; when I was younger I loved to drive fast. I remember arguing against no chase policies (I still do that to some extent), justifying total discretion on high speed responses, thinking that accidents and injuries were just a reality. If someone got hurt, even an innocent civilian, well that was the consequence of life. Bad guys can’t get away with ignoring the orders of motor cops. We gotta get ‘em.
I remember being in a chase, probably a pointless one, and looking at my speedometer. It was trying to go past the 120 mph mark. Part of my brain, even with the adrenaline rushing through my veins, said; “Man this is way too fast.” So I actually let up a little bit and saw the speedometer drop down to 110. Sure as hell, I thought to myself, well “that’s too slow”, and I hit it again. Seconds later I spun out on a curve. Gravel was flying and the car was doing 360s. It seemed like it spun 10-15 times. During that spinning I remember thinking; “God, if you get me out of this I promise I’ll stop chasing this asshole.” As the squad came to a stop I took a deep breath, thanked my maker, and then began justifying to him why I was again, in hot pursuit.
But think about this most dangerous thing we do – drive. Why, really, would you go 90 mph driving to a domestic? Why whip through an intersection at 75 mph without slowing or stopping? What kind of call is so important that you would risk yours and other people’s lives breaking the sound barrier? A burglar alarm? A fight call? Shots fired? A domestic? The answer is: none!
How many domestics have you been on that required you, in hindsight, to break the 70 mph mark while driving through a residential area? And hindsight should actually be your guide. Hell, I can’t begin to tell you how many domestics I responded to in my career. And few, if any, required a response that risked my life, let alone someone else. Yeah, yeah, yeah, almost everyone can come up with one example where their quick response saved a life, caught a burglar, or intervened in an active fight, but where do the odds fall? And, how would you explain killing a family because you were hauling ass in order to get to a burglar alarm? How would you feel? How would you live with yourself? Sadly, there are officers and former officers that are carrying that very heavy burden.
This is a new age. And besides the guilt and emotions connected with killing a noninvolved party, how about the ramifications from a legal standpoint and your career in general? My next commentary will address the realities of foolish decisions and the consequences of driving unreasonably and outside of policy and the law. In the meantime, realize that the most dangerous thing you do is drive. So why make it even more dangerous than it actually is by not wearing a seatbelt, going too fast, and whipping in and out of traffic? As Sgt. Keith Wenzel says when he proposes this question: “Why do we drive the way we do? Because we can. Who’s to stop us?”