Monday, November 05, 2012

PD versus FD... One to Watch

Dave Statter has a post up at, involving a situation in which a Wisconsin police officer engaged in a high-speed (and high-risk) pursuit trying to stop a vehicle that turned out to be a volunteer firefighter/EMT. The FireLaw blog, written by chief officer and attorney Curt Varone, also weighs in on the issue.

The jackass involved is suing the police department, for excessive force (apparently due to the fact the cop approached with his gun in his hand).

Statter has a good portion of the officers dash-cam video posted; here is what *I* got from it:
  • the cop was already watching for a person allegedly impersonating a police officer; the suspect was allegedly driving a black Challenger;
  • the officer saw a black Charger with a spotlight and push bar go past his location at high speed, running red lights and siren;
  • the officer initiated a pursuit of this vehicle, based on the impersonation complaint;
  • the officer ran between 85 and 105 mph for roughly the first minute and a half, attempting to catch up to the Charger;
  • the Charger, when the cop caught up, was driving between 70 and 80 on a basically-deserted open-country secondary road, with virtually no other traffic;
  • both vehicles reduced speed to 45-55 in a more developed area, and 15-30 mph in an obvious residential zone;
  • both vehicles pulled into the "Brooklyn EMS building," at which time the officer was able to see a Wisconsin EMS marker plate, but he still handled the situation -- at this point -- as a felony stop (bearing in mind the earlier impersonation complaint and the fact that a chase had occurred);
  • the officer approached the Charger with his gun drawn, as is standard for felony stops;
  • as soon as the driver of the Charger identified himself, the officer holstered his weapon, and explained his view of the situation to the driver of the Charger, in a polite professional manner.
Statter links to a Wisconsin State Journal article, which picks up the story:

By the time the two vehicles pulled into the station, a bay door was open and other firefighters were arriving, so the situation should have been clear to the officer, Dean said. Also, according to an in-squad video of the incident, the officer learned prior to drawing his gun that Dean's vehicle had a state-issued Emergency Medical Services plate.
The dashboard video, made available to the State Journal by the Oregon Police Department, shows Dean getting out of his car, then ordered by Gilbertson to "Get back in the car" and "Get your hands out the door, right now, both of them."
Gilbertson then approaches the car with both hands on his pistol and appears to hold the gun close to Dean's head. Dean can be heard apologizing and explaining he's a Brooklyn firefighter.

Unfortunately, possessing an EMS marker plate is not a guarantee that the driver isn't a bad guy: there have been many EMS personnel arrested for various offenses, plus of course, there's the possibility the Charger was stolen.

One thing that is not mentioned in the fire blog reports is this:

Clark's written report faults the firefighter for acting without "due regard" for public safety. The call went out as an "Alpha-level" page for an "odor investigation."

According to Dane County policy, Alpha-level calls are non-emergencies and should be answered with "no lights, no siren (and) normal driving conditions," Clark wrote. [emphasis added]

I have no idea what the laws are like in Wisconsin, and every state's laws differ, but...

Here in Maine, when I am responding to a fire, the use of a red light requests the right of way, it does not demand it (the way a police car can; even fire apparatus cannot demand right-of-way). I am not allowed to exceed the speed limit, nor am I allowed to violate any other traffic regulation (stop signs, one-way, etc). Our local department restricts the use of lights to in-town only... if I am in the next town over, I cannot use the light till I cross into my town. The only volunteer FF who can use a siren is the chief, and he/she can only use it on a fully-equipped emergency vehicle (which has to be registered and insured as such, which, for an individual, would be astronomical).

As far as I know, every state requires "due regard for the safety of others" -- even police officers cannot drive like complete lunatics (though some certainly do; see, for example, Fausto Lopez, formerly of Miami PD).

Unfortunately, there are a few circumstances that make things look bad for this particular FF/EMT and the fire service in general:

  • The FF/EMT was a driving a POV (privately-owned vehicle) that is a black Dodge Charger, which is about the only police package sedan available right now.
  • The vehicle had a pillar-mounted spotlight (which firefighters could find useful) and a push bar... sounds a little too much like he was trying to make people think he's a cop.

It's like all the volunteer FFs over the years who brought Crown Victorias (here, here, here, herehere, here). Some of these yahoos go so far as making traffic stops (here, here, here [and I love the gold badge that says 'concealed weapon permit' and 'second amendment, my freedom']). The more firefighters -- especially volunteers -- try to look or act like police officers, the more it'll piss off the "real" cops. There was a similar case just a few months back... a volunteer FF in a Crown Vic with a spotlight and LED light heads all over the place, who got into a dispute with a guy in a Corvette... who happened to be a real cop who called for uniformed backup.

This jamoke will hopefully be convicted, thrown off the FD, and -- if we're really lucky -- the state will seize his car as an instrumentality of the crime.

1 comment:

  1. I had a feeling the firefighter was a knucklehead, looks more and more like I was right. I don't think I've ever hit eighty,(on duty, busy city but quiet at night) and I've responded to some fairly emergent situations.