A recent Sun Sentinel investigative report revealed deeply disturbing data on police driving behavior on South Florida roads. The three-part series investigated an idea that many south Floridians already believed to be true - police officers sworn to uphold the law are amongst the worst speeders on our roads and are not held accountable for their behavior, even when deadly. The data the Sun Sentinel revealed is a telling story of entitlement, danger, tragedy and a nauseatingly pervasive, dysfunctional culture.
By collecting data from SunPass Records, the Sun Sentinel reporters gathered a stunning array of unnerving facts, including:
Since 2004, Florida officers exceeding the speed limit have caused at least 320 crashes and 19 deaths. Only one officer went to jail — for 60 days.
The three-month investigation found almost 800 cops from a dozen agencies driving 90 to 130 mph on our highways.
Miami officers were among the most chronic speeders, with 143 of them driving over 90 mph — all outside city limits. More than 50 Miami cops broke 100 mph — one more than 100 times.
What struck me about the investigation was that it only took SunPass data into account - meaning only highway driving was measured. The nuisance and danger speeding drivers (civilians and police) represent on our on our local and secondary roadways is well-known to South Floridians - pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike.
Take for example the Miami officer that inexplicably managed to drive up a utility pole on a quiet neighborhood street earlier in December. Many in our community laughed and shrugged it off as a bizarre accident. I wasn’t so quick to chuckle. This example of negligence and monumental stupidity are the type of things that erode public confidence towards police departments.
The investigation challenges another myth that pervades in South Florida - that we’re known as ‘terrible drivers’ because of our diverse citizenry importing driving habits from around the globe. While there may be elements of truth to that claim, it is not the sole reason the particular brand of driving in South Florida often resembles a demolition derby.
Take the ‘broken window’ theory into consideration. Coined by Kees Keizer of the University of Gronigen in the Netherlands, Keizer’s research focused on the idea that witnessing disorder and petty criminal behavior leads people to perpetuate such actions. (Like how broken windows on a vacant house invite litter, graffiti, etc.)
On South Florida roads, the ‘broken windows’ and litter are represented by the speeding police officers that pass you at 110 mph, screech around corners, roar through intersections, drive up poles and run over innocent beachgoers lying on the sand.
This type of behavior by police trusted to uphold the law has a ‘trickle down’ effect, meaning average citizens eventually feel entitled to speed without repercussion, perpetuating the behavior they observe daily from the police. Who’s enforcing anything? The risk seems small. Combine this collective mentality with urban roads like Biscayne Boulevard designed with suburban design standards that practically encourage speeding, and you have a recipe for the motoring chaos we see everyday.
Three basic ways to begin addressing the anarchy on our roads is enforcement, education and infrastructure (traffic calming). Sadly, enforcement has to begin within our own police departments on a broad scale.
Though perhaps we reached the tipping point today - Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa was involved in a car crash that sent a person to the hospital this afternoon.
Transit Miami friend Gabriela was rear ended by a car while stopped at a red light on South Beach this past weekend. The driver did pause to make sure she was ok, but then took off. Gabriela then called the police to file a report and was told by the officer that the MBPD could do nothing for her. This is what she had to say:
“ On Sunday afternoon I was riding my bicycle along West Avenue on south beach when a woman leaving Whole Foods failed to come to a complete stop and rolled into my back tire shoving me into the road. Luckily I was unscathed but my bike tire is completely bent leaving my bike (main form of beach transportation) un-ridable.
The woman paused to ask if I was ok- when I told her that I was fine but my bike was damaged she said ‘sorry’ and continued to turn north on West Avenue and drove away. I was shocked that she left the scene of the accident for which she was at fault. I called the police and filled out a report (including eye-witness information) with an obstinate police officer (to put it kindly) who basically told me that I could fill out a report but nothing could be done about it.”
She goes on to say:
“I gave the tag, car description and driver description to the cop along with witness contact info… The cop made it clear that nothing would be done about it…”
All I can say is “Wow”.
Yesterday the League of American Bicyclists released it’s ranking of Bicycle Friendly States. Florida moved up the scale to number 12 for 2010.
There was some snafu with the documentation submitted by Florida to the League last year, making Florida rank much lower in 2009 (32) than 2008. If you want to know how well we’ve improved, the accurate comparison would be with the 20th place ranking in 2008, upon which we have still improved significantly.
This year the ranking breakdowns (PDF link) by category are worth looking at. The categories include legislation, policies and programs, infrastructure, education, evaluation, and enforcement. Florida scored third place in policies and programs, but ranked lowest in education and enforcement.
I hope we are all interested in improving Florida’s rankings in these weak areas, but there is no simple solution. It will require extensive partnership and cooperation between different government and law enforcement agencies and even private organizations, advocacy groups, or individuals. The “Ride Right, Drive Right” campaign is an excellent example of such an education campaign in Florida, a partnership between a private company, an advocacy organization, and a government agency. Enforcement will need similar partnerships with local law enforcement agencies.
Perhaps we can learn from this example and build new partnerships for both education and enforcement. Let’s hear your ideas in the comments. We all can work together to make Florida a better place to cycle.
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