That's the question that comes to mind after reading this report from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund declaring that Texas leads the nation in officer deaths so far in 2007. Thirteen Texas police officers died in the first half of 2007, compared to 8 in North Carolina, 6 in New York, 5 in Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, and 4 in California, Louisiana and Maryland. The majority of deaths were from traffic accidents, with shootings the second highest cause.
On Monday constables undertook a high speed chase in Dallas that reached speeds up to 100 miles per hour. Reported a local TV station:
Dallas County's chase policy is left up to the discretion of the officer.Such chases not only put officers at risk but the suspect, other motorists and bystanders, and policies like the one in Dallas County might explain why Texas' number of officer deaths are so much higher than other states. According to the FBI, "traffic pursuits/stops" is the most common cause of officer fatalities.
"If the vehicle flees, [an officer] has authorization to pursue," said Chief Deputy McKnight. "He also has authorization to call the chase off if he deems it too risky."
Monday, officers remained in hot pursuit of Teague, even when his speed neared 100 miles an hour.
The Amarillo Globe News ("Texas has 13 officer deaths," Aug. 1) suggested another interesting hypothesis why the number of police traffic deaths has risen:
Clearly something odd is going on when California has 1/3 the police fatalities as Texas. After all, their population is more than half again greater. Is it because Texas departments maintain outdated high-speed chase policies? Is it because we've loaded up police cars to the point officers become too distracted to drive safely? Is there some other reason? I don't know, but the data raises questions every department in the state should be asking itself. This is one list where Texans can take no pride in declaring "We're #1."
Another theory that may explain the accidents is the amount of technology in police cars these days.
"There is so much stuff in there. It's like a spaceship," [Public Information Officer Danny] Alexander said.
Lt. Michael Miller, Traffic Investigations Unit commander of the Amarillo Police Department, said all that equipment can be a distraction.
"There's cameras, computer systems, printers and radios and sirens. There's a lot of equipment that the officers are responsible for, and they can be a distraction," he said. "We try to limit those, but, unfortunately, the nature of the beast is those are needed."
Miller said officers are instructed to pull over if they need to access information while driving.
He also said more safety devices have been installed on patrol cars like back-up warning systems.
[Potter County Sheriff Mike] Shumate said technology may be a contributing factor, but inattentive drivers and police officers also are to blame.
"We're constantly looking at that as administrators - can we overload our cars with too much junk? It's officers who aren't sometimes paying enough attention as they should, and people talking on their cell phones and not paying attention," Shumate said.