Sunday, September 12, 2010

Testosterone Poisoning, Squared

The other day I read a little blurb beneath the fold in a local paper. Seems a local LEO received minor injuries (treated & released) when he lost control of his vehicle while pursuing a motorcyclist who was "driving recklessly" and "speeding."

Does anyone sense any irony here?

Apparently the LEO began pursuit without notifying dispatch, a requirement I believe is standard in most police departments. Some jurisdictions—like those who have lost multi-million dollar lawsuits resulting from police pursuits gone awry—require a supervisory officer to approve pursuits, put restrictions on the circumstances which justify pursuits, and allow supervisors to call off pursuits when appropriate.

Nevertheless, this LEO began pursuit of the offending motorcyclist, and while the motorists sharing the highway were able to move aside and make a clear path, somehow the rear end of the police car left the roadway and the LEO overcompensated, crossing over the road and going off the other side. (The article was not clear on the exact path of the police car).

Shortly downstream, the motorcyclist collided with a signpost, abandoned his bike, and fled the scene on foot. He was arrested a short time later at a nearby residence. Not surprisingly, he was found to lack a motorcycle endorsement on his license, as well as insurance, registration and inspection on his bike. My guess is he was also in possession of a mullet, facial hair, multiple tattoos and a wife-beater as well, but there's no accounting for taste.

Neither of these guys comes off looking too great here. I have absolutely zero sympathy for the motorcyclist; he should go to jail and never hold a license again (not like that would keep him from driving, in any case). But "reckless driving" and "speeding" are somewhat subjective terms. I can imagine a lot of normal, reasonable, safe behaviors on a motorcycle that could be construed unsympathetically as 'reckless.' Speeding is another matter—but I'd like to see the evidence before assuming this 'fact' is factual.

But for a LEO to engage in a motor vehicle pursuit is second only to deciding to unholster his weapon and draw down on a person in terms of awesome responsibilities. It represents an irrevocable life-and-death decision involving not just the LEO and the person he is pursuing, but that person's innocent passengers and the driving public at large.

In an age of instant communication, it makes no sense to willfully engage in deadly and unnecessary actions, contravened by well-known safety concerns and broadly understood best-practices. A simple radio call can alert authorities downstream of a potential malefactor without endangering the public. An officer patiently waiting in a suspect's neighborhood for his return home offers a similar potential for a successful apprehension, minus the risk to all.

Yes, I am second-guessing the LEO and Monday-Morning-Quarterbacking as well. I can't imagine the harm that motorcyclist presented to the public which was so egregious as to demand a vehicular pursuit. If there are policies in place concerning such pursuits, and the LEO in question ignored or contravened them, then perhaps he should be restricted to driving a desk for the same period of time the motorcyclist is consigned to being a pedestrian.

In recent months, there have been a rash of high-speed pursuits of motorcyclists by various local LEAs—mostly for speeding—resulting in crashes and serious injuries to the motorcyclists involved. Unless the motorcycle is a getaway vehicle for a serious felony, speeding—by itself—should not be justification for an officer initiating a pursuit with potentially fatal consequences for more than just the suspect. (Note: Please don't start with the "...flight implies guilt" nonsense. Being stupid—last time I checked—is not a capital offense in this country. Good thing, too.)

All I take away from this incident is two men operating high-performance vehicles. One has been granted the power of life and death by the state; the other is cursed with a serious case of the stupids. Each seems to suffer from a bad case of testosterone poisoning. Maybe next time something like this comes up, the more grown-up of the parties involved can ratchet it down just a notch before someone really gets hurt.

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