Good Pursuit or Bad Judgment: An Example of Differing Perspectives on the Police


Before getting started, here are two comments on the Blog:

Note #1: Anyone interested and informed on the Ray Gricar case that would like to tackle my follow-up questions, just email me at the address on the left of the blog. I’ll speak with you further about your thoughts.

Note #2: This is not strictly a police blog and I apologize to those who have looked at this week’s material and are bored by 3 out of 5 postings being on cop stuff. I had planned on doing another topic this morning, but felt the following police story was too interesting and important to pass on.

Now for today’s post…

Late in the evening on this past New Year’s Eve, a police car driven by a sergeant with the Minnesota State Patrol struck the rear of a minivan that she was trying to stop. The incident had escalated from the officer observing an improper lane change on the Interstate and trying to stop the vehicle.

She then considered the driver as non-compliant when he would not pull his vehicle over for her, and followed the van for almost a mile before the two vehicles exited the freeway. The officer then reportedly use a PIT maneuver in an effort to end the incident.

The driver, with three children in the vehicle, claimed that he was simply looking for a safe place to pull off the road when his vehicle was struck from behind by the cruiser, and was obviously irate over the incident.

Unfortunately, I could not find this video to imbed it, but go here to take a look at the news story and some of the video from the sergeant’s dash camera.

With this incident, I found it very interesting the wide diversity in comments from viewers posting to three different websites. First, commenters on Vox Day’s website (he is a libertarian blogger and where I initially saw the story)were appalled by the officer’s behavior and made statements including:

-- Rindal should be immediately removed from the force for her poor judgment and incompetence as well as her demonstrated predilection for turning a routine traffic stop into a potentially lethal situation.

-- Who would have thought that all these years after the Rodney King incident and the LA riots, a conservative Republican like me would also come to the conclusion that cops are just thugs with uniforms and badges?

-- Nobody I know, and I mean nobody likes the police. At best they are seen as a necessary evil, but the most part they are despised. I find that the typical cop I meet is a below average IQ thug.

-- I've never met a single cop, male or female, who didn't have some kind of a Napoleon Complex about being able to carry a gun, drive your tax-paid car like it was a tank, and harass people at will.

Persons on the Minneapolis Star Tribune (represented by a more even readership of "pro-police" and "suspicious of police" readers) had this to say:

--In a police state you must comply immediately with any request, no matter how dangerous it may be to yourself or children. In a rational society, the cop would be charged with criminal vehicular assault, but here in a police state, it is a standard tactic for police to assault anyone for the slightest noncompliance.

-- I am not an officer but it clear he was not running from her and I have seen officers follow someone longer then what she did before the car pulled over and they did not try and ram the car. The officer’s actions are unwarranted and I hope the state pays to fix the van and issues an apology, plus drop the lane change charge, and pray they are not facing a law suit.

To get a third perspective on the incident, I posted the video and story to Officer.com. Here are some of the responding posts there:

-- The guy should have pulled over to the right. I saw a lotttttt of places he could have pulled over. He is just a crybaby because he didn't follow the rules and got in trouble…The officer did a good job.

-- There is more than enough room to pull over on I-94. The shoulder is probably as wide as one lane, if not more. MNDOT is pretty good about getting roads cleared and salted; especially being that it’s I-94. He should've pulled over when signaled to.

--The officer is the one who decides where it's safe to have the driver pull over, not the violator. I know I do. After all, it's me that's gonna be standing on the shoulder and it's my squad that would get hit 1st by oncoming traffic.

Are you as surprised by the differing opinions or is that to be expected? As evidenced by the discussion on two websites (one not supportive of police and another more neutral), citizens heavily sided with the driver that the sergeant’s actions were unreasonable. In contrast, many of the pro-police readers of Officer.com supported the officer’s actions.

I think incidents like this and the resulting discussions make it apparent why community policing type approaches are difficult to implement and/or continue. Opinions and perspectives of those involved in law enforcement are drastically different from civilians. Citizens can have high and sometimes unreasonable expectations, and one questionable incident can set an agency back in the arena of public opinion for years--no matter how proactive the department has been.

Also, officers knowing that split second decisions are made constantly in the job, are usually reluctant to be critical of the actions of other officers--so the comments on Officer.com were not surprising.

Here are a few personal observations on the incident:

1) The district attorney sided with the citizen driver and refused to prosecute any of the charged offenses. A civil suit against the department will be forthcoming.

2) The fact that three young children were in the vehicle was unknown to the officer at the time—making them irrelevant to arguments regarding whether the sergeant’s performace was reasonable.

It is interesting that many posters on the non-police sites were primarily inflamed over the kids being in the car. Having pursued a variety of vehicles at night, it is not easy to be sure of how many occupants are in a car—-especially a van with children in child seats.

3) It looks more like the sergeant accidentally struck the other vehicle (slid on ice or something?) as opposed to delivering a PIT maneuver. In any event, I would be interested in reading the agency’s pursuit policy to see what restrictions are placed on using PITs. I think that most agencies would deter officers from using a PIT manuever with no backup as it can be a dangerous practice.

4) In order to greatly decrease the likelihood of this happening to me while I am driving a car load of kiddos, I recommend to turn on your flashing lights, slow down, pull toward the right, and then look for a safe place to stop. Once stopped, wait in your car.

By doing this, you will significantly reduce the anxiety of the pursuing officer (who is armed by the way), and if he/she is still concerned, it will give time for the officer’s backup unit to arrive and further ease tensions.

5 comments:

MeadowLark said...

These stories break my heart. I've posted a couple of things about "civilian interpretation"... the latest being from a crazy-woman who believed every bit of media agitation (10 year old girl punched in face. Yeah. Right) and previously about the "TACTICAL TEAM RAIDS FARM HOUSE". People were up in arms that they showed up in FULL ARMOR!!!!

Um, YEAH, that's my husband's UNIFORM for SWAT calls, ya moron.

Obviously, I can't be objective because it makes me so mad. People are stupid.

(Sorry. I didn't realize it annoyed me so much)

Slamdunk said...

Thanks for the comment MeadowLark.

It can be frustrating--as those negative comments hit close to home. Being away from policing on an everyday basis, I had forgotten how the criticism can really get to you and the stories and comments never seem to end.

Sandra G. said...

Very interesting post.

I have not yet viewed the video on any of the sites you mentioned, so I'm going to view the video first before reading any comments from anyone...I'll get back to you after I've done so.

Cheers,

Sandra

Sandra G. said...

Okay, I just watched the video provided through the link. It's hard to pass judgement as I do not know all the facts (like how long the van driver did not stop, the layout of the highway where the officer attempted to stop the van etc etc), but here are a couple observations:

- we in the VPD do not use the 'pit' manouever, so I'm not going to comment on how it was executed - but did the officer try the pit move or did her car slide on the ice?

- the van driver looked to be stopping once he exited the freeway, but again, that's hard to judge by just the camera

- yes, the driver was irate when he got out of the van, but I too would be as mad as a wet hen if my car was struck when kids were in it

Both the driver and the officer appeared to be under the belief they were doing the correct thing. He said he was looking for a safe spot to pull over, and the officer thought where she was trying to stop WAS safe.

But oh man! Two days in jail for that??? You have got to be kidding! There must be something else behind the story to justify them putting the father in jail. Either that or there is a huge difference in the laws of that state and of where I live.

To really pass judgement on this incident would require access to all the facts - the complete dash cam video, statements from the officer and the driver, and knowledge of the roadway and surrounding area.

Slamdunk said...

As usual--great insight Sandra. Even though having a video is valuable it does not tell the whole story and having the other documents/items for review would be essential.

I should read some other versions of the story to determine if the news media stated that the officer performed the PIT or that came from the police. After we both said that it looked like the officer may have slid on ice and struck the vehicle, I should have looked to see if their was a press release from the police agency--then I would know how the police wrote it up (weather related accident or pursuit termination technique).