The St. Pete Police Dept.’s convenient position on red lights and speeding

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Editor’s note: The following is a guest post from Gene Webb. E-mail him at dr.webb@verizon.net.

John Romano has a great piece in today’s Tampa Bay Times about who police officer red-light violations are being mishandled.  It is a follow-up to an article by Michael Van Sickler on Wednesday.

Romano raises the age-old question: Are the cops above the law? The question might be more accurately stated do the people who run law enforcement think they and the people they manage are above the law?

The real answer is: It depends. When it serves them to use the law, they will use it and when it serves them to not follow the law, they will use that, also.

Management at the St. Pete PD will tell you they are a paramilitary organization. They follow command protocol. The rules are the law and they follow the rules.

My five years at the St. Pete PD lead me to conclude they are a conveniently paramilitary organization. When it is convenient, they follow a paramilitary command structure and when it is not convenient, they don’t.

Chief Harmon indicates they discipline officers running red lights but don’t require them to pay the fine. Indications are there are no reports or records kept of these infractions or discipline.

Recently, I made a public records request for information regarding officers speeding. See this post for a conveniently paramilitary response. The point is,either there is no recurring report or they want to make it as difficult to get as possible.

In an organization that tracks everything, right down to flashlights and batteries, it seems a bit difficult to believe they would not track the driving performance of 500-plus officers who ply the city streets for 4 million miles per year. The tools are there. The red-light camera photos and footage, the GPS system with speed data is in every police cruiser.

How can you manage something you don’t track? Maybe City Council should make these statistics part of the monthly PD Performance Measures Report.

Using discipline as opposed to paying the fine is a paramilitary cop out. A police officer will remember paying the fine long after he/she has forgotten the discipline.

Most people who have paid the $158 would probably be happy to come down to the station and have someone tell them to just do better and be careful to avoid paying the fine. But we don’t have that option.

Chuck Harmon is fond of saying we hold officers to a higher standard. I don’t think there is a higher standard that paying what you owe when you break the law.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.