Governor Rick Scott orders broader look into law-enforcement crashes
Feb 15, 2012
The following article was published in the Orlando Sentinel on February 15, 2012:
Scott orders broader look into law enforcement crashes
By Rene Stutzman and Scott Powers
Prompted by a three-day investigative series in the Orlando Sentinel, the Florida Highway Patrol will begin work immediately with Florida’s sheriffs and police chiefs on how to prevent police-vehicle crashes, Gov. Rick Scott‘s office announced Wednesday.
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said Wednesday that he will ask his citizens’ advisory panel to comb through his agency’s driving policies beginning today to determine whether they need to be changed.
“This is not something that’s lost on me as chief executive,” Demings said. “We work for the people, so I’m going to take it to the citizens.”
And Orlando police Chief Paul Rooney said he may implement one crash deterrent featured in the newspaper series: having dashboard cameras switch on automatically anytime a patrol car reaches 65 mph. “It’s definitely given me some ideas,” he told the Sentinel on Wednesday.
The Sentinel published its findings earlier this week after analyzing five years’ worth of vehicle-crash data — 1.6 million crashes — to determine how often Florida law-enforcement officers crash while in department vehicles and how often they are at fault.
On average, Florida cops are involved in 7,400 patrol-car crashes annually that injure 2,400 people, kill 20 and cause $25 million in property damage. In one out of every four, they are at least partially to blame, and they are seldom ticketed.
Before the stories were published, the Sentinel briefed Paul Sireci, president of the Florida Police Chiefs Association and chief of the Tampa International Airport Police Department, on its findings. He convinced that group to launch a study of the issue, with FHP help.
Scott’s press office responded Wednesday that the task force studying the issue had been expanded beyond FHP and Florida’s police chiefs to include the Florida Sheriffs Association, that it would convene “immediately,” and that the governor looked forward to reviewing its recommendations.
Col. David Brierton Jr., FHP director, issued a statement on Wednesday that said the goal of the task force is to develop “policies to guide officer patrol activity, training and behavior modification.”
One of the Sentinel’s findings is that many officers at least partially to blame for some fatal crashes were neither ticketed nor charged.
That includes a Pensacola police officer who in 2009 began chasing a 17-year-old on a bicycle, and when the teen wouldn’t stop, shot him with a Taser. Moments later the teen tumbled to the ground, and Officer Jerald Ard ran over and killed him.
Also not ticketed or charged was a Palm Beach County deputy who fell asleep while driving 73 mph in a 50-mph zone, crossed a median and crashed into the van of a 60-year-old West Palm Beach man, killing him.
Rooney, the Orlando police chief, praised the newspaper series as powerful and said it is something his agency might use in future driver-training courses. But he said he would not change a policy that prohibits OPD officers from writing tickets to other OPD officers at fault in traffic crashes.
He and Demings both said their agencies already far exceed state driver-training requirements. Both also said their officers had fewer at-fault crashes in 2011 than 2010, the last year analyzed by the Sentinel.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Officeranks No. 5 among Florida police agencies in the number of crashes for which an officer was at least partially to blame in 2010, the Sentinel found. There were 65 crashes that year that left 19 people injured and one dead: a 91-year-old Altamonte Springs man killed when a deputy crashed into his car driving 86 mph in a 40-mph zone.
When combined, all law-enforcement agencies in Orange County had a higher proportion of officer-at-fault crashes in 2010, the Sentinel data analysis found: 31 percent versus 27 percent for officers statewide.
Demings pointed out Wednesday that officers’ at-fault percentage is far lower than for the general driving public, commercial truckers and even school-bus drivers.
Given the circumstances in which his deputies drive, he said, “that’s phenomenal.”