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Thursday, December 30, 2010

8 Police Officers and the Void they Leave

Effective January 1, 2011, we will lay off eight patrol officers - 8 members of our police family.

These eight officers chose the noble profession of law enforcement believing that they would spend their careers with the Aurora Police Department.

They have been members of our family for several years and there is no easy way to watch them walk out the door. As each of them hand over their equipment within the next few days, the reality becomes painfully intolerable.

There are many fingers pointing blame in all different directions and the mud being slung only means that no one walks away clean, but none of that really matters. How we got here and who is to blame only adds distraction to the fact that our brothers and sisters in blue will leave a void of great magnitude in our police department.

As the Commander of the Patrol Division - where each of these officers are assigned - I can confidently state that their individual contributions to our police department will not be forgotten.

We must continue our police mission because that is the oath we have taken. But we do so with Officer Ray Morris, Officer Scott Carter, Officer Steven Pacenti, Officer Chris Moore, Officer Mark Carey, Officer Aendri Decker, Officer Erin Lapp and Officer Kyle Hoffman in our thoughts and as part of our history. Godspeed.

Courage versus Bravery

There is no shortage of bravery in the Aurora Police Department. I have worked alongside of many men and women throughout my career who did not hesitate to run towards the sound of gunfire or to jump fences in pursuit of an armed suspect.

I originally believed the law enforcement profession attracted these “fearless” individuals who think nothing of putting their own lives on the line for strangers in the name of preserving justice. Since bravery is the ability to persevere despite fear, pain, and risk of danger, it would seem that those without bravery need not apply.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that bravery is not as difficult as it seems. Ask any person who has put themselves at risk to help another and they will tell you that they simply acted without thought. When a person falls, it is our instinct to extend an arm and help. This is why a soldier or police officer often refutes accolades after an act of heroism by responding, “I was just doing my job.”

Because it is inherent in our nature to help each other, we are all just “doing our jobs” as human beings. The only difference between police officers and the common citizen is the hours of training that make officers more confident and equipped to face dangerous situations. As Aristotle pointed out, we become brave by doing brave acts.

I’m sure many will dispute this belief by saying that they could never do the job of a police officer or firefighter. Over the years, I’ve heard many people say that confronting a suspect in a home invasion or running into a home engulfed in flames is not on their list of things to accomplish. I challenge that when confronted with a situation where you must act immediately in order to prevent a catastrophe or save a life, most would do so without pausing to consider the risk.

Bravery is not as difficult as it appears to be. Courage on the other hand, is quite rare. Bravery and courage are often used synonymously but they are not the same. Physical bravery is to act upon instinct while moral courage is the thing that sets the truly courageous apart from all the others. It can manifest in seemingly minuscule ways or it can be magnificent in magnitude. It is the strength to stand firmly grounded while those around you scurry to align themselves to the majority opinion.

The “Thin Blue Line” is an emblem representing the camaraderie of police officers signifying their unity and solidarity. Over the years, the term has taken on a negative connotation and may now depict corruption and cover-up of those officers who tarnish the badge. Fortunately, policing has evolved whereby the thin blue line of protecting those corrupt officers has faded considerably because of courageous police leaders who in their own organizations have declared it intolerable. Even more courageous are the line level officers who stand up in defiance of corruption and boldly police themselves and their comrades.

Being courageous might simply mean thinking differently from everyone else and declaring as much. It is more common for a person to avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of consensus thinking for fear of being seen as foolish, to avoid embarrassing themselves, or angering other members of a group. Cowardliness is choosing to protect one’s own interest rather than opposing an injustice. True courage means doing what you know is right, even at personal risk.

Resolve this New Year to practice more courage. Resolve to fight the urge to sit in silence when you know you should be speaking out. Resolve to stand up against a wrong when you know it would be easier to allow it to occur. Resolve to defend someone who deserves defending even if it will make you uncomfortable or unpopular. By practicing courage, you will become courageous.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Solution to Red Light Cameras: Don't Run It!

When I first learned of our city’s implementation of red-light cameras, I was vehemently opposed. Not because I saw them as a revenue generator, as has been the main accusation against them, but rather, I saw them as taking away discretion from police officers. For example, if an officer pulls you over for a traffic light violation, he or she might find it more advantageous to issue a warning rather than a citation. I know in my patrol career, I weighed many factors before deciding which course of action would ultimately change a driver’s behavior — which is the ultimate goal of law enforcement at its very core.

After the cameras were installed, I asked our Traffic Division supervisor, Sgt. Scott Mantzke, to educate me on the cameras and the ticketing process. Operating under full disclosure, I offered my trepidation. Sgt. Mantzke proceeded to show me how he and his staff watch each video and view still photos of each violation to determine if a ticket should be issued. He explained that questionable infractions are not ticketed, thereby blowing my discretion complaint out of the water. I then accompanied him to several citizen meetings where he gave a presentation on the cameras.

I learned quickly about the many concerns to quell. For example, some felt as though rear-end collisions would go up as a result of stopping quickly at a red-light camera intersection. They haven’t. A comparative analysis shows that rear-end collisions have not increased. Another complaint was that the yellow lights do not allow for adequate stopping time. They do. Each stoplight is set to show yellow for a minimum of four seconds in a 30-mph zone. If you are traveling the speed limit, physics proves that you will be able to stop in 2.4 seconds. If you are speeding, it takes longer. It was interesting how each presentation to the community started out with the audience thrusting their hands up in the air to voice their concern. The hands slowly went down as each myth was dispelled.

One gentleman identified himself as an attorney and offered to the audience that he received a red-light violation in the mail and could recall the precise moment he traveled through the intersection. He was adamant that he cleared the yellow light and planned to fight the ticket. Because a ticketed driver can go to a website where they are able to view their violation, he did so confidently. The scenario that played out in his mind’s eye was very different than the footage that showed him blatantly running the red light. He hung his head and paid the ticket.

I found the same reaction from those who chose to fight their ticket in front of a hearing officer. I sat in during one of the sessions and watched as each driver pleaded not guilty only to be shown the video. Upon watching one video where a female obviously drove through a red light, the hearing officer looked puzzled as to why she was pleading not guilty and asked if she had any explanation. The female lowered her mouth into the microphone and stated, “I was going to buy beer” and then quickly fled the courtroom. The audience roared with laughter. Her comedic performance was a hit but she was still cited.

Part of the problem is that we have been conditioned to speed up when the light turns yellow. This means that we have to re-program the way we drive. Red-light cameras don’t eliminate crashes as evidenced by the terrible accidents we have captured on video due to someone running a red light. They do, however, reduce the risk. Some might still believe it’s a revenue generator. To those people I simply state, don’t run the red light.