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Columns : Editorial

Blue on Blue: The Speeding Miami Cop

The reckless driving arrest of an off-duty Miami officer reveals serious problems with police driving, tactics, and attitudes.

December 06, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

Screenshot: Univision.
Screenshot: Univision.

On Tuesday Oct. 11 at around 6:30 a.m. Florida Highway Patrol Trooper D.J. Watts was patrolling Florida's Turnpike in suburban Miami. What happened next is legally in dispute but Watts says she spotted a marked Miami Police Department patrol car traveling at high speed weaving in and out of traffic, no lights, no siren. Watts pursued.

The chase went on for 12 miles with the Miami PD patrol car reportedly hitting speeds in excess of 120 mph in the early morning commuter traffic. Watts was reportedly asked to stand down by her supervisor and let the incident be handled through interdepartmental diplomatic channels. Watts apparently did not hear the order to abandon the pursuit. She took down the patrol car, driven by Officer Fausto Lopez. During the traffic stop, she detained Lopez at gunpoint and held him in cuffs until ordered to release him.

This incident has become a flashpoint in an interdepartmental war between the Miami PD and the FHP. It's also become the source of hot arguments on numerous Internet forums, including POLICE Magazine's Facebook page and the comments section of various news articles on PoliceMag.com.

I'm not here to defend the actions of either officer. So much is wrong with this situation that there's plenty of blame to go around.

Let's start with Lopez. He's hired a lawyer to plead not guilty to charges of reckless driving, a misdemeanor under Florida law. The lawyer says he wasn't even speeding. OK, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt under the law. But if he was really going 120 mph down a crowded highway just because he was reportedly late for his off-duty job, then Lopez needs to seriously consider another profession.

That may sound harsh. But let's look at this from the point of view of the people of South Florida. Lopez is accused of not only driving like a lunatic and endangering the public in his take-home patrol car but having the arrogance to believe that he could do so with impunity just because he is a cop in a marked car.

If you take nothing else away from this editorial, please take this: You shouldn't be going that fast in traffic, even if it is a code 3. That is pushing the envelope of your patrol car, and it is well beyond the abilities of the vast majority of police drivers. Driving that fast in traffic, even in response to an emergency call, is foolish. It endangers the public and it endangers you. There's a reason why so many officers are killed in single car accidents. Slow down.

Trooper Watts also needs to be disciplined and retrained. She chased after Lopez at high rates of speed in traffic, also endangering the public, when she could have easily radioed ahead to other troopers. She was ordered to stand down by her supervisor but either ignored that command or didn't hear it because she was so focused on her quarry. Then after Lopez stopped, she felt so endangered that she approached the vehicle with her gun drawn. Which makes no tactical sense. Why didn't she call for backup? Why didn't she take cover and call out the driver?

Most cops are incensed that Trooper Watts handcuffed Lopez during the stop. This act violates blue on blue courtesy. But this is a minor concern compared to some of her decisions during this incident that imperiled herself and the public.

Both Lopez and Watts are back on duty. Lopez faces a hearing on his reckless driving charge and hopefully some kind of departmental discipline, if he is found guilty. At the very least he should lose his take-home car privilege. There is no indication that Watts will be censured for her actions. But I urge the FHP to give her some remedial training before she gets herself killed.

And the repercussions from this incident are still being felt. An on-duty Miami PD officer recently pulled over an FHP trooper who was also on duty in apparent retaliation. Unfortunately for him the trooper's brother was an internal affairs investigator for the Miami PD and the traffic stop was outside of the officer's jurisdiction. That officer received a "formal warning" from acting Miami PD Chief Manuel Orosa. All I can say is: He's lucky I'm not his chief. That kind of fraternity prank nonsense would not be tolerated, and I'd make sure my officers knew it.

Society has entrusted you with arrest powers and the ability to use force to effect an arrest or protect yourself or others. That's a responsibility that should only be bestowed upon mature adults. If you can't act like grown-ups, turn in your badges. And, yes, acting like a grown-up means not driving 40 to 50 miles over the speed limit and endangering other motorists and yourself just because you know your colleagues won't give you a ticket.

Tags: Florida Highway Patrol, Miami PD, Catching Speeders, Thin Blue Line


Comments (15)

Displaying 1 - 15 of 15

Steve @ 12/7/2011 11:39 AM

To often I hear an Officer has been ordered to Stand Down and for what ever reason "Doesn't Hear" it. I find that hard to believe. I'm a Sgt from many years ago, I would never have stopped another Police Veh, unless I knew there wasn't an Officer driving it. If I felt that the Officer driving was doing something he or she shouldn't have I would have simply reported it to my Supervisor and let the two depts handle it. It seems in this day and age there is more of a lack of training and in some instances a real lack of Common Sense. Both Officers need to be disciplined the PD Officer for his stupidity in being late to a job and the FHP Officer for disobeying a direct order,using a weapon when not needed and pure simple overaggressive contact,maybe someone needs to give her a set of her own Balls.

Calicop @ 12/9/2011 2:15 PM

As a female police officer, I hate hearing something this ridiculous. If nothing else, officer safety and public safety should be our primary concern. Whenever another female officer shows her lack of training and common sense it makes the rest of us look bad. If the PD officer was driving 120 - stupid. Don't do it. Crash into a minivan of kids and see how quickly you regret it. The FHP officer - really? You made a potentially bad situation worse.

timothy f mulderig @ 12/12/2011 1:41 PM

as a civilian I think in most cases no courtesy 1]would a civilian be handcuffed after driving 120? 2]no car for lopez off duty.3] cop when not on duty should get no more or less than a civilian who acts the same way. I have friends and family on the job One act like this and everbody gets painted with the stupid brush.

Deadman @ 12/12/2011 2:51 PM

I think,both departments should think about remedial training for both.
I can't imagine Miami cruisers not having equipment in the trunk that all officers should be aware of,that can monitor everything that goes on in that cruiser and with that cruiser,save the officer blowing his nose and that includes the speeds,changing lanes,braking and acceleration that could place that officers career between a rock and a hard place.That being the case,i hope that officer reaizes that his career hangs in the balance of everything he says and he could jeopardize his future with a lie on his statement.The FST should have known better than to pursue without authorization,to chase at 120 mph arrest an officer,handcuff him and place both of their careers in a jackpot,two wrongs don't make a right,not these two wrongs.Boneheads need re-training on both departments,take a look at the training officers and supervisors also.This is a case of inmates running the asylum.

John Jackson @ 12/12/2011 3:37 PM

Both are poor risk that may cause both departments big problems in the future by vicarous liability rules. Suspend both pending investigation and hearings. Both should, at a minimum, be on desk duty for the next 6 months to a year. Perhaps both would be better suited in another profession.

Tom Ret @ 12/12/2011 3:43 PM

Steve-I agree. Both officers involved used poor judgement.

Commander Griffin @ 12/12/2011 3:51 PM

OK fellow Officers. You both screwed up from what I read. Get back to the basics of what Law Enforcement is. Admit your mistakes and move on.

Sam Haakinen @ 12/12/2011 4:29 PM

As long as depts hire by racial/gender/ethnic criteria rather than choosing the best people for the job, we'll see more and more idiocy like this. It would be interesting if reportage included the information on whether the party(ies) was hired on merit, or because of discriminatory criteria like race, ethnicity, or the configuration of genitalia.

Cris Taylor @ 12/13/2011 3:11 PM

First thing, going that fas to an off duty assignment is just wrong. Second, being that speed is wrong and it pissed the FHP off. It made a bad situation worse and made it worse for ALL law enforcement in the US. To make it so public. Handle it with the channels provided, yes sometimes they do not work, but is the price that is being paid for this incident worth it. We as LEO will not get paid of the have the benefits of upper professionals until we act it and demand it from our other brothers and sisters. Demand better and be better. This country needs us, more than ever.

Will Mack @ 12/17/2011 9:12 PM

Thing is, off duty officers and on duty officers need to obey the traffic laws just like the general public. If, while on duty, an officer is responding to an emergency, lights,siren and extreme caution should be exercised always. I often see traffic laws being broken, by those very officers who are sworn to enforce and uphold them. Speeding and tailgating by officers are common here in Georgia. Wreckless driving by officers should not be excused.

FireCop @ 12/19/2011 8:01 AM

I like the law in Texas that states you cannot pull over a law enforcement vehicle for speeding. That would solve a bunch of this stuff. With that said, I wish more police officers would follow traffic laws. It's hard to write a ticket when most of your brothers are breaking the same law.

motorcop407 @ 1/7/2012 12:37 PM

Confrontion situations happen frequently where I worked for 20 years. Despite the scenario, the on-duty officer IS (or should be) IN CONTROL. I had to pursue an off-duty's POV, as that vehicle was travelling in excess of 95 mph (when he passed my location) on a busy inter-city highway during primetime. When I finally caught up to the vehicle and pulled it over, and asked the operator to produce their credentials. I found that the MOS wasn't even driving. They displayed their shield and said "It's O.K., i'm on the job and we're late for a wedding reception". I didn't (and shouldn't) read them the riot act, but I did point out the consequenses of speeding on a highway noted for fatal accidents, and left it at that. We all too often forget that along with our job comes a certain amount of responsibility, not only to the public but to ourselves. Just as I am sure Trooper Watts was pissed for having to leave her vantage point (if she was on one) to catch up to the MPD cruiser, and on top of it all the MPD officer disregarded her attempts slow him down, or pull him over, whatever the case. Trooper Watts just should'nt have added fuel to the fire. The MPD officer probably has done this on many occaision, and that morning was his morning to get caught before he becomes involved in a career or life ending accident. That morning, those officers were destined to meet each other, and for good reason. Now hopfully the MPD officer won't have a vehicle at his disposal to wrecklessly operate on the highway, and Trooper Watts will hopefully have learned something from this situation. Hopefully the "crap" between the two agencies has come to a head with this situation, and they will "stand down" this potentially destructive and un-professional behavior, before we all have to cover our shields with yet another mourning band.

Marshal @ 2/15/2012 9:30 AM

I agree with all that the situation as I read it was bad on both aspects but more so with the Miami PD Cop for driving like that. I didn't read it but was there confirmation that he was indeed a cop before she stopped him or did she think he was some idiot that stole the cop car? I have been doing this line of work for 17 years and I still get offended by the cops that get stopped for a major speeding violation well away from their jurisdiction and they just hang their badge out the window like their poop don't stink. I agree that I don't like writing other cops tickets and yes I do give other officers breaks. To a point. As for professional courtesy, professional courtesy would no be putting another officer in the positioning of having to decide to give you a break that would be a major speeding violation if a citizen did it. I know an officer that had a firefighter tell him that the fire ID was all he needed to see when the officer repeatedly asked for a drivers license. The firefighter was 200 miles from where he worked. Giving breaks to our fellow officers, to me, is ok but when pulled over none of them have the right to give the officer that pulled them over any kind of crap because they think they are above the law. You should act with the kind of respect that you think you deserve when you stop someone not with major attitude because you got stopped by someone that doesn't know you are a cop. Treat me with respect and you will most likely get a warning or a major reduction of the violation. Treat me like crap and give attitude you will not only get a ticket but also your boss may get a copy of the video with a little note about respecting fellow officers. Not too much to ask that if you want the respect and a break then give the respect first.

Eli Umpierre @ 2/24/2012 6:47 AM

What does the gender of either of the officers have to do with what took place here at all? It is the decision making and subsequent actions taken by both officers that should reasonably be debated.

Len @ 2/14/2014 12:11 PM

Just having read up on this incident in its entirety, I am baffled at the vilification of Trooper Watts. The MPD Office was OFF-DUTY and ABUSING PUBLIC PROPERTY (we citizens paid for that patrol car and the roadways he was SPEEDING WANTONLY & RECKLESSLY on). Lopez' actions were CRIMINAL. PERIOD. What Watts did was UPHOLD THE LAW. She should be commended, not harassed and threatened. WAY too many of the LEO's in uniform today feel they are immune to the same laws the citizens must obey and that just isn't the way our society is supposed to work. Blue on blue respect does not get a free pass when it comes to having to obey the law.

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