Monday, October 12, 2015

Focus on suicide, traffic accidents to reduce police officer deaths

The Texas Tribune reported that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has "asked the Criminal Justice Committee to make recommendations to 'reduce the number of injuries and deaths to or by law enforcement officers,' by reviewing police efforts to engage their local communities as well as assess the dangers to law enforcement officers."

Patrick's suggestion responded to the murder of Deputy Darren Goforth in Houston. But when it comes to police officer injuries and deaths, that episode is an outlier. The two areas where a greater opportunity exists to minimize police deaths are to reduce a) traffic accidents and b) suicides. And methods to reduce traffic deaths among cops could have a salutary benefit of reducing bystander deaths as well.

This same senate committee had an interim charge on the same topic which resulted in a report (see interim charge 5, p. 58 of pdf) in 2009. That report pinned the largest risk to police officers on the fact that they spend so much time in cars: "Policing remains a dangerous profession and our delivery method of this public service by automobile is the largest contributor to accidental deaths in Texas and across the nation."

Grits expects the next senate review to result in similar findings as the underlying causes and rates of police deaths haven't changed much in the intervening years. It's possible the Legislature could act to reduce peace officer deaths, but not if they focus on the spectacular cases rather than the typical ones.

RELATED: Speaking of Deputy Goforth's murder, demagoguery by the Sheriff in its aftermath appears even more off base now that it's been revealed that a) Goforth was at the gas station to meet a paramour not his wife, and b) the woman with whom he allegedly engaged in an affair allegedly also engaged in "consensual sexual conduct" with the Sheriff's department investigator assigned to the case! The mind reels at such poor judgment, at least before it begins wondering whether the investigator has engaged in similar behavior in other cases.

Reported Lisa Falkenberg at the Chronicle, "From the beginning, officials at the scene told reporters that Goforth was pumping gas when he was killed. Now we find out that he may have not been pumping gas, or even on duty." Then the bit about the investigator allegedly sleeping with Goforth's mistress transforms this into a truly bizarre and disgraceful episode. Deputy Goforth's murder was a tragedy but the opportunistic way the Sheriff's Department handled the aftermath exacerbated harm instead of mitigating it.


Anonymous said...

How are his extramarital affairs relevant to his murder?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

The reason it's come up is the issue of whether it's capital murder or not. If Goforth was a peace officer in the course of his duties, it could be charged as capital murder. If he was there for a liaison and not for work, maybe it doesn't get a capital rap. (N.b., that's not my view per se, it's just how it's been framed in the press accounts - my non-lawyerly guess is capital will apply either way.)

Lee said...

I recently attended jury duty and during voir dire was shocked to hear the prosecutor state that the character or identity of the victim didn't matter.

The problems start with the many lines that the state continues to draw between citizens and the police that continue to make it look like we are being occupied by a foreign army. An example of this is the current statute on the death penalty and which murders qualify as a capital offense. The single crime of homicide against a barber, chef, engineer, teacher, physician, dentist, sailor, fishermen, priest or any number of other civilian jobs have the maximum punishment of a life sentence. However the homicide of a police officer (judge and prosecutor as well) must be punished by death (especially in Texas). The message that the current law sends is that some lives are worth more than others and not all human lives are equal. Some people are but mere pawns and others more important pieces. The message is that if you kill a police officer you will face the death penalty. However the murder of any other civilian (for example the barber, chef, engineer, teacher, physician, dentist, sailor, fishermen or priest) is more tolerable and the punishment is less.

This separation creates two separate classes determined by employment. The first class consisting of police (including judges and prosecutors) and the second class citizens being everyone else. With the state choosing what lives are of more value than others I would expect significant animosity to breed and occasional violence to erupt between the first class and the second class. Under the current logic of this part of the capital murder statutes we could probably create a third class or citizens based on employment including the homeless, drug dealers and prostitutes with the murder of these individuals punishable by maybe 10 years in prison. This follows the logic of the state that certain lives are worth more than others based on the occupation of the victim.

So much for all that crap about all life being precious and all men being created equal. Some people are rooks and knights while the rest of us are just pawns.

Anonymous said...

@ Lee,

OUCH! But I could not have put it better myself.

The same can be said of sex crimes. Rape of a prostitute is generally treated as less scandalous than the rape of a child. Either way, someone is scarred for life.

Then, if you consider consensual teen aged sex, with one being underage, that same consensual act can be charged as sexual assault of a child (i.e. rape) and then are are TWO victims. One being the underage person, the other being the senselessly charged "of age" person.

Further, an under aged teen takes pictures of herself on her phone. It gets lost at school, turned into the office. In order to "determine who the phone belongs to", administrators view the pictures and see these nude'ish photos of a "child". Now, she can be charged with both producing child pornography as well as possessing it. No, do NOT laugh. Do NOT say this is absurd. IT is happening, and it is happening much too often.

All of these situations are crimes, but of course, it is all relevant in the eyes of the law. for thought

Anonymous said...

Supposedly the murder was captured on camera, the sheriff probably knew the truth before he made his speech misleading everyone else.

Taylor said...

Wouldn't most cases of police officer deaths be considered a wrongful death? If I understand wrongful death correctly as this attorney explains here: most officer deaths are considered accidental. Like you mentioned in the article, the murder case was an outlier. People just don't go out planning to kill an officer. Most cases involve the negligence of another person striking the officer with their vehicle.