TAMPA, FL — The accident happened so fast. Michael Kelley never saw it
coming. "All I saw was a blur of white and I’m getting spun around."
his head cleared, Kelley, 54, realized he and another motorist had just
been hit by a Tampa Police officer who had run a red light. Angry
witnesses at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd and
Nebraska Avenue in Tampa told him that the patrol car was running no
lights or siren. TPD’s own report on the accident of September 1st,
2008 noted that the officer "failed to realize the danger of entering
the intersection on a solid red light."
Kelley wasn’t hurt, but
the other motorist was taken to the hospital. Property damage on the
report was listed at $14,000 dollars.
The biggest surprise for
Michael Kelley came later when he discovered that the Tampa Police
officer would not be cited in a crash he clearly caused. Kelley called
it hypocritical and a double standard. "I’m certain if I had done
that, I would have been cited."
Michael Kelley’s accident was
one of more than 400 in the Bay Area last year in which a law
enforcement officer was at fault. ABC Action News examined the records
of six local agencies including St. Petersburg Police, Tampa Police,
and Polk, Pasco and Pinellas Counties. We found a dozen officers that
had two or more accidents, although many of them were minor.
also discovered that few agencies ticket their own officers or
deputies. The Tampa Police Department recorded 84 crashes in 2008 that
their officers either caused or failed to avoid, yet TPD reports they
didn’t write a single ticket.
Not writing tickets to police
and deputies in crashes in which they’re at fault is standard procedure
at most agencies. Agency officials say that while they don’t ticket
officers and deputies, they are punished internally.
review, we did find cases where the officer lost their take-home
vehicle privileges. A few were suspended without pay for up to 15 days.
Police spokesperson Andrea Davis says the internal punishments are more
than adequate. “Their punishment, including responsibility for damages
and the possibility of losing their jobs eventually is a pretty strict
punishment”, said Davis.
Others argue that law enforcement
officers deserve a break. They often drive over a hundred miles a day
while using a radio, cell phone and onboard computer. Police have to
check addresses and license plates while driving under all kinds of
Retired Hillsborough sheriff’s captain Rod
Reder believes ticketing officers would only punish the public. "I
think if you overreact and start citing officers for minor traffic
violations and crashes, what you’re going to have is officers parking
their cars and not going on patrol as much. They’re not going to
aggressively respond to calls", claims Reder.
There is a notable
exception to this policy. Polk County Sheriff, Grady Judd believes a
policy that shields officers from traffic citations just doesn’t sell
with the public. Eight times last year, Polk County deputies who got
into wrecks were both disciplined internally and given a ticket, like
any other driver.
Judd went on to say, "If we’re involved in
a crash and it’s our fault and it’s over $1500 dollars in damages, the
deputy’s going to get a traffic citation as well. We just think it’s