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Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).
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Engage Your Brain Before Acting

Ham-handed law enforcement by unthinking police makes this job harder for us all.

June 14, 2012  |  by - Also by this author

Our unique empathy for what our peers go through means that, save for the most misanthropic among us, we cops can probably be counted upon to act as one another's advocates. In my case, so long as the guy isn't some martinet motor cop, an obsequious climber, some anal-retentive lieutenant, or amoral dirtbag with a badge, he or she is apt to find me solidly in his or her corner.

Still, I sometimes find myself wondering what is percolating in the ol' grey matter of some officers when I hear of some cop whose decision-making process makes the news.

Consider the case of the officer who cited a dad after the man had abandoned his ride to save his 5-year-old boy.

For the click-impaired, here's the story: A father and son in Union County, N.J., are out on an outing to feed some ducks when the latter darts toward a precipitous 35-foot drop. Dad, up to this point mobile in his Jeep Commander, abandons it to chase the lad down and save him. The rescue effected, son and dad look up in time to see the Jeep swan dive over the cliff and into a lake. Fade out.

Fade in: Image of responding officer issuing citation to dad. Make that two.

The violations? Failure to set the parking brake and failure to present proof of insurance (Given its watery confines, if I was the father, I would have considered saying, "It's in the glove box. But there may be a gun inside with it. As I am sure that you would want to retrieve it instead of me, you have my permission to do so.")

Not knowing the lay of the land or what was happening in the seconds preceding the child's self-declared emancipation from the Jeep, I can arguably see a point being made for the man being cited for child endangerment. But my speculations will go little further than that when it comes to taking some enforcement action against the man. To my mind, it would appear that both man and duck—I don't think he'll be revisiting Huey, Dewey, and Louie anytime soon—have already paid a helluva price in his gaining the scare of his life and giving new meaning to "off-road vehicle."

And it's not like the man did not react to the situation as a father should. No doubt there are some who faced with similar circumstances might well have suffered some internal debate as to what to do—a Socratic moment that might well have resulted in the losses of child, car, and driver.

One can allow for an objective concern for the man's failure to set his brakes; no one wants unmanned cars allowed free rein, after all. But the imperative need to cite for failure to provide a submerged insurance card? Rosie O'Donnell's g-string doesn't stretch that much.

That smacks of either petty-assedness, or chickenshit revenue-generating opportunism (while I am naturally sensitive to the possibility of there being some combination thereof at work, I am trying to keep in the spirit of the handling officer's sense of absolutism).

It's not like any failure at wrist-slapping in this incident might establish a fad. I don't think we'll start seeing parades of driverless Jeep Commanders cascading lemming-like over the nation's numerous cliffs.

Let me ask you this: If the driver had been a fellow cop, would you have cited him? And if you wouldn't have, would it be because of "professional courtesy" or something else?

Like it or not, this is the kind of thing that is absolutely disastrous on the public relations front. Sure, you can say "Well, it's my officer discretion, and I stand by it!" Really? Think about the headaches it has caused for the agency (yeah, I contacted it). Think about how something like this impacts the whole of the law enforcement community vicariously at a time when many citizens are already looking at us askance over what it perceives to be "exorbitant" pensions.

And when even Union County Police Chief Daniel Vaniska has said, "It probably could have gone either way," do you think that just maybe it should have?

Look, there's something to Ben Foster's maxim of the journalist being the first chronicler of history. True, you and I may regard him as the proverbial "unreliable narrator," but do we really need to needlessly avail him ammunition against us? Will history not look back at us and wonder, "WTF were they thinking?"

Comments (11)

Displaying 1 - 11 of 11

DEADMAN @ 6/18/2012 5:40 PM

I think,i'll have to support the officer because as the story appears,it would seem the father,took the son to feed the ducks,but was too lazy to get out of the vehicle and watched the kid from the vehicle and if he ever took his child there before that date,knew of the cliff and the apparent cliff dangers but decided to still stay in the vehicle leaving his child to his own risk.Watching his child and seeing him going towards the cliff,he responded hap hazardly,leaving the vehicle either in gear or in neutral.The whole situation,could have been avoided if he walked along with his son to share the experience,i never had that option,life is precious,hold your children close,less you forget of their needs.I would have cited my brother or son if the situation arose,let alone a fellow officer.

Robocop @ 6/18/2012 7:40 PM

I would not have cited him or anyone else for those offenses. I MAY have cited him for child endangerment for allowing his 5yr old son to wander around in an very dangerous area .
Also, I rather resent the remark about MotorOfficers. My guys and myself were nothing but kind and considerate Police Officers treating each incident based on it's own unique merits. We often went very far out of our way simply to do PR work for our Department and serving our community.

getum @ 6/18/2012 9:09 PM

Seems "DEADMAN" is a complete idiot too! Our police agency's are filled with morons and idiots that can not think clear minded at all.

Dean Scoville @ 6/19/2012 12:32 AM

Robocop: You are right. I was wrong. I don't enjoy making apologies, but when they're in order, they're in order: Sorry about that.

Dean Scoville @ 6/19/2012 12:33 AM

And yeah, the inherent irony given the title and point of the blog isn't lost on me, either.

Greg @ 6/19/2012 4:11 AM

Way back when as a 17 year old kid, I stopped on the road to see if a Maryland State Trooper needed help (he was stopped in an odd place with his flashers on and I was a Boy Scout Explorer in the county police program). Turns out he ran out of gas. Being a scout, I was prepared, had a jerry can of gas and gave him enough to get him into town. He said thanks and gave me a ticket for a burned out tag light.

Nice guy...should've let him enjoy nature.

Marshal @ 6/19/2012 6:14 AM

With just the simple facts listed then I think that a ticket was pretty chickenshit. That said, there may be more to the facts then listed in this story or the original one then what we have been told warranting the ticket. Let's face it, the media sure leaves a lot of facts out especially when it makes cops look bad. But there are cops that right some dumb tickets. Just because you can right a ticket doesn't mean you have to. A really old but fitting saying is "Remember that the people you contact or someone they know will be a future juror or city councilperson so treat them all with respect."

Marco @ 6/19/2012 6:41 AM

I also tend to thing some facts are left out of the story. If it is as presented, then you also have to look at department policy. Do they have a policy that states that when you can determine a violation at an accident you MUST issue a citation? If so there is a good chance the very same officer, or one of his co-workers has recently been disciplined for NOT writing a ticket. And for Marshal, just because you wrote someone a ticket they didn't agree with, doesn't mean you didn't treat them with respect.

Dan B @ 6/19/2012 6:48 AM

You are so right, Marshal. The media does seem to play it up big when officers end up with egg on their face. By the same token, I have seen some tickets written by officers in my area and I wonder how, with that kind of thinking, the officer ever made it through the process to become an officer.

John M. Wills @ 6/19/2012 11:43 AM

Great article illustrating discretion. There are gray areas, and others which are clearly black or white. This officer's actions remind me of colleagues who write traffic tickets to their mothers--clearly these officers are lacking common sense.

Motorcop @ 6/25/2012 10:11 AM

Lets face it! These types of officers are among us. In my 25 year career I have seen them come and go! Just look and see the type of officers/administrators that hired them in the first place and you can understand why they are among us. We need to police ourselves before our entire profession is becomes completely embarrassed by these idiots!

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