Both officers were fired for the coin flip antic. The Prosecutor dismissed the case against the driver. The Police Chief used Conduct Unbecoming an Officer (CUBO) as the reason. This is a common charge when the Chief lacks imagination or a charge that rises to the level of a firing offense. Don’t get me wrong, they are guilty as hell of CUBO. As an isolated incident, I’m not sure their conduct rises to the level of a firing offense.
We don’t know all the facts developed by the Internal Affairs investigation. There are questions I have, that may have been answered, but not made public. For instance:
- It appears that they called up the coin toss app without searching for it. This would imply this was not the first time it has been used. A forensic examination of the computer may reveal widespread use of the app. It may lead to additional officers.
- The officers weren’t shy about doing the coin flip with both the dash cam and body cams activated. This implicates management. It would seem to indicate that either management did not routinely review the video or only reviewed the video in response to a specific complaint. The alternative is that management was aware of the coin flip routine and took no action.
- The original violation speeding was not supported by radar. There isn’t enough information to indicate if the officer had an adequate tracking history to justify the speeding charge let alone the enhanced reckless driving charge.
- There is no public information to indicate if the report and officer’s later statements to Internal Affairs substantially departed from the video and other information developed during the investigation. More cops go down behind the cover-up rather than the original indiscretion.
If the Internal Affairs investigation determined that these factors were present then the firing is the least of the officers’ problems.
Officers forget that something that they do six to ten times a day, the traffic stop, is something the average driver experiences every eighteen months. The chickshit fine the comes about, as a result of the citation, may as well be a million dollars for those of limited means. Chances are, the police contact is enough to remind driver’s of their obligation and cause them to modify their behavior. It’s okay to screw with crooks, hapless drivers on the side of the road, not so much.
People will see the video and miss the main issue. The officer has two possible charges: (1) Speeding and (2) Reckless Driving. The fact that there are two charges, one calling for a citation and the other a custody arrest says that there are additional “elements of the offense” to be met to support the reckless driving charge. If the officer cannot plainly state those additional elements then the reckless driving is off the table.
This leads to the second problem, depending upon how the statute is written, those elements that would indicate a reckless driving charge is reasonable can still be highly subjective. This means that a District Attorney looking at the same circumstances, at intake, could dismiss the case out of hand. From an officer’s point of view, the DA’s decision-making process could certainly resemble a coin toss. Why not carry it to the lowest level?
I am not defending the officers. The officer pointed out in the video all the bad shit that could have happened because of the way the driver was driving, but it didn’t. I used to tell people caught in a similar situation, “I know you are a good driver because a bad driver would have killed himself long before now.” At any rate, I have an explanation, as to why the officers did what they did. It shows that new technology isn’t always better.
My rule, back when I wrote tickets, was an entertaining excuse got a warning. On the other hand, there were occasions where the driver’s fate was sealed and it had nothing to do with the traffic violation.
I stopped an old man traveling thru town heading back to Iowa where he resided. He was speeding and despite lights and siren in his rearview mirror continued on his merry way for about ten miles. Once stopped, he informed me that he had never received a citation in fifty years of driving. I didn’t care about the violation but in order to make the quote quotable, I wrote him two tickets speeding and fleeing or attempting to elude police. As I handed him the ticket book to get his signature I said, “Well then, looks like I got your cherry.”(No elderly folks were harmed in this incident, the city attorney dismissed both tickets).
My roommate Heart Attack and I were parked door to door in a parking lot overlooking a four-way stop sign. I was parked facing a long downsloping hill. We were bored. My radar unit started tracking what appeared to be an empty road. A second glance revealed a bicyclist coming down the slope. I pointed out to Heart Attack, “Hey this guy is doing 45 mph on a bike.”
Heart Attack, knowing full well that the posted speed limit is 30 mph pointed out, “He’s 15 mph over the limit, you ain’t got a hair on your ass…”That poor son-of-a-bitch never stood a chance. Not only did he get the speeding ticket but a second for running the stop sign.
Another driver I stopped, a good ole boy that I usually saw in various bars, handed me his paper driver’s license receipt. He had just renewed his license that afternoon. I took the offered receipt, looked him in the eye, and ate it. I then repeated my request for his driver’s license. He stuttered and stammered and pointed out that I had just eaten his driver’s license. I told him he could try that excuse with the judge, but I didn’t think that the judge would believe it. I then issued him a citation for failure to display his driver’s license. He knew when he was beaten and accepted the ticket with good grace. The judge dismissed the charge when he presented his valid license.
I had another officer riding with me one night. I was working and he while still in uniform had just finished his shift. I stopped a car with a couple of coeds in it. He volunteered to make the contact and grabbed my ticket book. It was ten at night but that didn’t stop him from putting on his sunglasses. He then proceeded to work his way to the violator’s car, working his way down her car hand by hand. He held his hand out requested her driver’s license when she provided it he didn’t reach for it. She had to place it in his hand. What followed was a pantomime of a blind cop issuing a traffic ticket. She accepted his assurances that he was indeed blind and that this was the police department program to hire the handicapped.
One more and I’m done. I stopped the stereotype hippie in a beat-up VW bug for speeding. I contacted the granny glasses, headband-wearing freak driving who started the conversation with, “Just what I need a ticket from the pigs.”
I sensed a certain level of hostility and frustration on his part. I observed that he was not alone in the car. He had a good looking male German Shepard in the back seat. If a dog could wear an embarrassed look, he had it. Upon further inquiry I determined that the freak and dog were heading home from the Vets. The freak had just spent $100 he didn’t have because the dog was sick. While in transit, the dog experienced a bout of diarrhea. The combination of the vet bill, diarrhea and traffic stop just about made this guy’s day complete. I was entertained, even if he wasn’t. I let him go with a verbal warning, for the sake of the dog.
The point is that cops have been playing games like this forever and will continue to do so. Some of the antics are based on the “Legend in His Own Mind Syndrome.” It was first documented by Joseph Wambaugh in The Choirboys. Officers suffering from the syndrome push the limits of good taste, common sense, acceptable language, and civilized behavior without crossing the line to criminal conduct.
The problem is that up until recently, the police relied on the word of their fellow officers when they made a claim to being a “Legend in their Own Mind.” Technology has made doubting Thomas’s of this new generation, they have video and by God, they are going to use it. Achieving the mantle of being “A Legend in Their Own Mind” is fraught with danger. Police administrators may take exception to the officer’s efforts and seek to reward him/her with days off without pay. The oral tradition provides for two almost insurmountable defenses, “I don’t know where you heard that Chief, but they musta misunderstood or Somebody exaggerated this thing way out of proportion.” The presence of a video removes those defenses.
Sometimes the old ways are better.