Violent police are increasingly criticized for everything from killing dogs to shooting the homeless and beating the mentally ill. These abuses of power are disturbing and desperately need attention. One under-discussed problem with police accountability (or lack thereof), however, is police irresponsibility while driving.
Stories about drunk officers driving the wrong direction on freeways and hitting civilians or soberly ramming into pedestrians are not uncommon. This week alone, three cops caused mayhem and fatalities on the road.
In New Jersey, a car of off-duty officers (who had posted a picture of whiskey shots to Instagram earlier that evening) drove the wrong direction on a freeway, killing a civilian and one of the officers in the vehicle. Two other officers were critically injured. The driving officer had a previous DUI and 8 prior accidents on record. The Police Chief of Linden, James Schulhafer, was vague in his comments, saying “We were all young once and I’m sure we’ve all done stupid things in our life.”
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a man leaving a bar was struck and killed by an officer who carelessly hit him in a crosswalk. The officer has not been placed on administrative leave because the “investigation has not shown any improper action by the officer prior to the collision.” Police admitted the officer did not see the pedestrian, which would be considered “improper action” had a civilian been driving.
In Florida, an officer attempted to ram a motorcyclist into a center divider, then to tried to flee. This illegal action was caught on video. Police are trying to locate the motorcyclist because “…he faces several traffic charges and fleeing from an officer.”
The stories this week highlight a much bigger problem.
In Washington D.C., cops caused over 2,300 car accidents from 2010-2013 alone. They are rarely reprimanded, but the taxpayer is forced to foot the bill for settlements
–just like they must do in police brutality cases.
While two of the incidents this past week are clearly (preventable) accidents, they represent not only the lack of accountability that cops enjoy
–escaping punishment for things ordinary civilians cannot –but that the very justification for having police is wearing thin.
Police are often given a free pass for misdeeds because society believes that they keep people “safe.” One of the ways they do this is by policing the roads and ticketing drivers who violate traffic laws. When they give out tickets for hundreds of dollars, authorities say it is to keep people safe
–whether from texting while driving, speeding, or crossing a double yellow line to enter or exit the carpool lane.
At the same time, police show a constant disregard for these exact same rules. In fact, police officers can be such abysmal drivers that in recent years, more have died from car accidents than they have actual attacks on their lives. Obviously, some of these accidents were not their fault, but a significant portion of officers were not wearing their seat belts when they died, a requirement officers routinely ticket drivers for violating.
While stories of police violence against innocent civilians are harrowing, these “run of the mill” traffic accidents represent the same problem with law enforcement on a more mundane level: that officers who shirk accountability will inevitably abuse authority
–whether with their guns or their “exempt” cop cars. Just as police believe laws against murder and violence do not apply to them, they believe it is their right to drive recklessly because they possess a badge. In both instances, civilians suffer while cops live above morality and the law.