Friday, May 21, 2010

Officer death contradicts Houston PD claims that all its cops wear seatbelts

Reports the Houston Chronicle: "The Houston police officer who died Wednesday after crashing his patrol unit hit speeds of 90 mph and was not wearing a seat belt as he attempted to catch up to a chase of a suspected car thief, HPD Chief Charles McClelland said." My condolences to the officer's family and friends on their loss. As in so many other cases, it's hard not to wonder if this outcome couldn't have been avoided if Officer Eydelmen Mani had just buckled up.

Earlier this year, the Chron's Moises Mendoza wrote a story on the subject of police and seatbelt use, noting at the time that "During the past three years, 16 Texas police officers were shot to death, but 18 died in car and motorcycle crashes." Today's story notes that:
it's unclear how bad the problem is in Houston because HPD has no formalized way to track the issue, despite a state law and agency policy mandating seat belt use by everyone.

And statistics HPD does maintain raise questions.

In 2009, for instance, the department reported that officers were buckled up in every one of the 752 on-duty traffic crashes that year. With less than half the number of crashes, the Harris County Sheriff's Office reported 18 officers were unbuckled that year.

The department, however, has repeatedly insisted it doesn't have a problem. In a February interview, Assistant Chief Martha Montalvo said she thought almost all officers buckled up and added there was no evidence that the department's statistics were incorrect
Now we have solid evidence of an HPD officer driving - and dying - without his seatbelt on. One wonders if HPD will continue to bury its head in the sand on the subject. Until then, I'll just repeat my earlier observation on the subject that:
Overall, more than 2/3 of Texas police officer deaths on the job stem from traffic accidents, a state senate committee was told last year. (The other major cause of officer deaths is suicide - a total which dwarfs the number of traffic accidents and shootings combined.)

In addition to putting officers' lives at risk, police failing to use their seatbelts undermines their credibility with the public. This widespread acceptance among law enforcement of colleagues who flaunt the law on seatbelt use appears hypocritical in this age of "click it or ticket" media campaigns.

Officers told Mendoza they had good reasons for not using a seatbelt, but civilian drivers can make excuses too and that won't get them out of a ticket. Instead, the real reason so many cops don't use seatbelts is simple: They know other cops, including their supervisors, not only won't call them on it but will make excuses to the media if they're ever criticized for the practice. The attitude seems to be "seat belts for thee but not for me."


Anonymous said...

Officer was a moron!

Anonymous said...

I have a few friends and family members that are HPD officers. One of my best friends is HPD and even when "off duty" in his personal vehicle, I have to always hound him to use his seatbelt.

His rationale as to why he doesn't is that he needs to be able to get out of the car quickly, and with the "John Brown" equipment belt, unbuckling the seatbelt is time consuming and it can potentially snag, giving the perps a running head-start.

This is NOT a valid excuse for the reasons you stated in your article. First, it undermines public support IMMENSELY when people see officers breaking the law flagrantly. Second, it is not worth the risk of being in a car crash or other accident simply to save 3 seconds when getting out of a vehicle. Like I said...even when he is OFF DUTY he doesn't wear it because it has become habit NOT to wear it.

Charlie O said...

C'mon. What wrong with you Grits? Everybody knows that laws don't apply to LE, especially traffic laws. They ENFORCE the laws, nobody expects them to actually know, follow or obey the law. Get real. They're "special."

Anonymous said...

You said, "Back in college I ran the editorial page at the Daily Texan..."

With that background it is not surprising that you spend most of your day sitting on your perch making snide comments about police officers.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

What's more surprising, 5:31, is that you would validate what I do by coming here to read and comment. Thanks!

STxRynn said...

When I was 16, as a licensed driver for a whole 7 months, I started doing donuts. I really had a ball. No seat belt laws then.

I remember starting a good donut, sliding across the seat, and finishing up from the passenger seat, barely missing some pole that magically appeared from nowhere.

I have consistently buckled up since. Even when the law didn't say I had to. I always thought it was best to be strapped to the car, so I could concentrate on driving and not sliding all over the inside. It feels strange to not be buckled when driving now. 34 year old habit, I guess!!!


Anonymous said...

Here's an awesome idea. do away with cars starting if the belts are not extended and locked in at all times.

Currently, we have DWI probationers that must blow in a tube every 6 minutes for their car to start and be kept operational. Take it a step further and mandate all auto makers put some sort of tech in cars that will not allow the ignition system to kick in unless the belt is engaged with a minimum extracted amount of belt out of the housing.

I drive one of the safest cars on the planet, yeah it's made in Belgium, but even with all 12 of the airbags/curtains, the anti-sub seats, the 6 point integrated roll cage, AND the enhanced side impact protection, my children nor my wife and I have ever gotten out of my driveway without belts on and locked. How anyone could drive today without seatbelts is beyond me. And I, like another commenter above, started driving before the law mandated seatbelts.

R. Shackleford said...

Cops don't think the same set of laws applies to them. Sadly, we find that in many cases, they are correct. One of the many reasons the common man distrusts/loathes le.

Unknown said...

I am tempted to make one of those troll, sheep, goat comments about law enforcement here... but...

Maybe, rather than have some device that prohibits operation of your vehicle unless the seat belt(s) is(are) used, maybe we should punt this into the insurance industries court and give them a pass on payouts in accidents where seat belts were not used.

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