Speed kills. At least, that's what they claim.
That's why the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has had programs like Safe Speed, where officers set up vans with radar guns around town to catch speeders who are later mailed citations.
So most drivers would be surprised to learn that a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer can spend his days writing speeding tickets and lecturing drivers, then get in his car and drive home at 90 miles per hour with no fear of losing his job if he gets a ticket.
According to the department's code of conduct, officers are required to notify their superiors if they are charged with hit and run, DWI or death by motor vehicle. They also must report the suspension of their license. But they don't have to report speeding tickets.
When I recently asked if the department had any rules governing how many tickets an officer can get and still keep his or her job or avoid repercussions, a department spokesperson couldn't point me to one.
That those responsible for policing the rest of us aren't held to a higher standard in their off-duty hours seems a bit counter-intuitive. When an officer speeds repeatedly off duty, it suggests a casual disdain for the laws he is sworn to uphold. And it should give his superiors pause to wonder what he does behind the wheel when he is on duty and the laws he is sworn to uphold are bent to allow him to drive in ways that would normally break the law.
Had a policy of scrutinizing the tickets officers get off duty been in place, had there been a limit on how many you can get and continue to police others, 20-year-old Shatona Evette Robinson might still be alive.
She was killed two weeks ago when Officer Martray Proctor, 24, plowed into Robinson's Ford Escort while doing over 90 mph. Proctor was headed down Old Statesville Road while on duty to help another officer with a routine traffic stop, a common practice.
He did not have his lights on nor his siren activated, as officers must when they exceed the posted speed limit, according to state law and department policy. Yet he was doing more than twice the 45 mph speed limit.
The Charlotte Observer reported that Proctor has racked up three tickets in recent years. Two preceded his hiring by CMPD. One in Gaston County for 86 mph in a 60 mph zone was reduced to 74 mph in a 60 mph zone and occurred in 2005, two years before he was hired in 2007. Proctor got another ticket in June 2007 in Cleveland County for driving 63 mph in a 35 mph zone, which was later reduced to 44 mph in a 35 mph zone, the paper reported.
Whatever the case, it's time the department took a look at how seriously its officers take rules against speeding unnecessarily on duty. On several occasions officers have blown by me on Central Avenue without lights and siren at speeds that easily exceeded the posted speed limit by 20 mph.
Since 1979, officers have killed nine people in six separate accidents while driving at exceedingly high rates of speed without lights or siren in non-emergency circumstances. That five of those seven accidents have occurred in the last nine years suggests that something is up.
In 2000, Officer David Nifong was driving 30 mph over the speed limit without lights or siren when he crashed into a van on Wilkinson Boulevard, killing Geoffrey Keith Darwin, 33. Officer Scott Darby was charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle in 2001 after a fatal wreck on Central Avenue. He was traveling nearly twice the speed limit when he collided with another car. Sara Gaffney, 23, died at the scene.
In 2005, The Charlotte Observer reported that despite then Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Darrel Stephens' promises to stress safety on the streets, some officers continued to say it was relatively common to speed without using siren and lights. Many even believed that those signals created traffic hazards by causing other drivers to behave erratically, despite the fact that department policy mandated them and their training was supposed to teach them how to handle drivers' reactions.
It's time the department took a closer look at this, and at holding officers responsible for the same behavior they spend their days writing tickets for.