Modesto police officers not cited when involved in accidents

kvaline@modbee.comAugust 3, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate text Kevin Valine
    Title: Reporter
    Coverage areas: City of Modesto and nonprofits
    Bio: Kevin Valine has been a copy editor and reporter at The Bee since January 2006. He's worked at the Reno Gazette-Journal, Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune and Paradise Post as a reporter and copy editor. He's a graduate of San Jose State.
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— A Modesto resident says that while she was at a stop sign in the La Loma neighborhood in June, a police officer rear-ended her 2007 Chevrolet Impala, denting the bumper and chipping the paint.

Alma Renee Fear, 57, filed a claim in July with the city, seeking $787.44 for the damage to her car.

The fender-bender is noteworthy for several reasons:

• It was one of several incidents in roughly the past year involving Modesto police officers and city drivers.

• While police-involved vehicular carnage in the movies and on TV happens at high speeds, this was more representative of what occurs in real life. The majority of real-life accidents involve an officer doing something as mundane as hitting a pole as he is backing up.

• No one was cited — not the officers and not the other drivers in any of the incidents.

Modesto Police Chief Galen Carroll said it's department policy not to issue citations in officer-vs.-civilian accidents.

He said it can be harder to impose department discipline on an officer if he has been cited. Carroll said the officer can claim he already has been punished through the citation.

The department also does not issue citations, Carroll said, because nearly all officer-vs.-civilian accidents result in claims or lawsuits being filed. Citing the officer or civilian can complicate resolution of the litigation.

Officers are not off the hook. They can face counseling, unpaid days off, additional driver training and even termination, depending on their driving history and the circumstances of the accident.

Civilians who are at fault face consequences from the Department of Motor Vehicles and their insurance companies.

This policy applies to routine traffic accidents. More serious offenses can result in arrests and charges.

Carroll said he believes Modesto's policy is the norm for law enforcement agencies throughout the state. He said it is the policy of the Long Beach Police Department, where he served for 18 years before becoming Modesto's chief about six months ago. Turlock Police Chief Rob Jackson said his department has the same policy and he, too, believes it's the norm.

Officials with the California Police Chiefs Association declined to comment for this story.

Carroll said the Modesto Police Department's roughly 300 employees were involved in 29 traffic accidents in 2011, 24 in 2012 and 21 this year. Some context: Patrol officers, who account for the majority of the accidents, drive about 1.48 million miles each year.

Information on how many times Modesto officers were at fault was not available.

Officers get into wrecks for the same reason as the rest of us — they get distracted.

It's easy to see why. A patrol car can be equipped with a computer with a screen listing call information and the locations of other officers, a radio to talk with dispatch, a GPS device and a dashboard camera. Unlike civilian drivers, officers can use cell phones, though some departments limit their use only for emergencies.

"Patrol cars are their offices," Carroll said.

Officers also are scanning their surroundings, looking for anything out of the ordinary.

Fear said the officer who rear-ended her Chevrolet said he was distracted and not paying attention. "He said, 'It's my fault and the city will pay for anything,' " Fear said. "He told me he was on his computer."

Police officers are required to follow the rules of the road except when responding to an emergency call, which is called a "Code 3." In those cases, officers are required to turn on a solid red light facing forward, as well as their siren. But they must drive in a way that does not endanger others.

Police officers receive eight hours of driver training every two years. For many officers in the Northern San Joaquin Valley and foothills, that training takes place at the Sheriff's Department's emergency vehicle operations course at the Crows Landing Air Facility.

About half of the training day is devoted to low-speed driving.

Still, Fear said officers need to do a better job of keeping their eyes on the road.

"I couldn't believe it," she said about her accident. "How could he hit me when we were sitting at a stop sign?"

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

 


Recent Incidents

• JUNE: A driver says a police officer tapped her rear bumper, denting it and scratching the paint, while the driver was at a stop sign in the La Loma neighborhood. The driver filed a claim against the city in July.

• SEPTEMBER: A driver making a left turn onto Roselle Avenue was T-boned by an undercover officer in an unmarked car. The driver's attorney claims the undercover officer was traveling at 72 mph. A witness stated an investigating officer said the undercover officer was on his way to an in-progress burglary. The driver filed a lawsuit against the city in June.

• SEPTEMBER: A police officer traveling at 5 to 10 mph rear-ended a car at a stop sign in south Modesto. A police traffic collision report found the officer at fault because he was following too closely. The driver and her two children, who were in the car, filed claims in March against the city.

• MAY 2012: A Modesto undercover officer in an unmarked car cut off another driver while making a left turn. The officer and driver exchanged unpleasantries. The incident ended with the driver and his passenger being arrested and charged with misdemeanor resisting arrest. Prosecutors dismissed the charges; the driver filed a lawsuit against the city last month.

Source: Claims and lawsuits filed against Modesto and Bee interviews

Recent Incidents

• JUNE: A driver says a police officer tapped her rear bumper, denting it and scratching the paint, while the driver was at a stop sign in the La Loma neighborhood. The driver filed a claim against the city in July.

• SEPTEMBER: A driver making a left turn onto Roselle Avenue was T-boned by an undercover officer in an unmarked car. The driver's attorney claims the undercover officer was traveling at 72 mph. A witness stated an investigating officer said the undercover officer was on his way to an in-progress burglary. The driver filed a lawsuit against the city in June.

• SEPTEMBER: A police officer traveling at 5 to 10 mph rear-ended a car at a stop sign in south Modesto. A police traffic collision report found the officer at fault because he was following too closely. The driver and her two children, who were in the car, filed claims in March against the city.

• MAY 2012: A Modesto undercover officer in an unmarked car cut off another driver while making a left turn. The officer and driver exchanged unpleasantries. The incident ended with the driver and his passenger being arrested and charged with misdemeanor resisting arrest. Prosecutors dismissed the charges; the driver filed a lawsuit against the city last month.

Source: Claims and lawsuits filed against Modesto,and Bee interviews


Traffic Accidents

These are traffic accidents for all of the Modesto Police Department's roughly 300 employees, though patrol officers — who drive 1.48 million miles each year — account for the majority of the accidents.

Year

Number

2011 29

2012 24

2013 21

Source: Modesto Police Department

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