Steven Betz, 11/12/11
The Times recently ran an editorial claiming that Concord police officers made the wrong decision in pursuing a suspect for “a minor cellphone violation.” The public deserves to know the facts.
Police officers are entrusted — and required — to make quick judgments on matters that could mean life or death in less time than it takes the rest of us to decide what coffee to drink in the morning.
That was the very situation that Concord police officers were faced with recently during the fatal pursuit that tragically ended with an innocent Arizona man being killed.
If the Times had delved into the facts, it would have acknowledged that full blame for this tragic accident belongs with one person: The suspect who evaded police.
The facts are as follows: On the day of the pursuit, a homicide happened in Concord. The officer who initiated the pursuit was in the vicinity of the homicide scene when he observed a vehicle driving through an intersection with the driver speaking on a cellphone without a hands-free device.
The officer, as part of his duty, determined he would pull over the driver for the violation. However, when he tried to do so, the driver drove off to avoid capture.
The officer was an experienced veteran of the department. Several factors played into his decision to pursue the suspect at that point. First, he knew that homicide suspects often return to the crime scene in order to gather intelligence on the investigation. Second, the driver had made eye contact with the officer, and thus the driver knew why he was being pulled over.
Since the driver was trying to evade arrest, that would suggest to a police officer that something more sinister was occurring.
In this instance, the officer was reasonably concerned that the suspect may have been involved in the homicide, that perhaps the suspect evaded the officer because he was “wanted” or he had contraband in his vehicle.
All of the above represent serious threats to public safety — much more serious than a minor cellphone violation.
In the seconds it takes to make a decision, the officer analyzed the various possibilities that could have posed a serious risk to public safety in Concord and made the decision to do the job that the public pays him to do.
As it turns out, the officer’s instincts were correct.
Upon arrest, it was determined that the suspect was unlawfully in possession of a firearm and was driving a stolen vehicle.
The community should be rightfully upset that an innocent human being lost his life; however, placing the blame upon the officer and somehow insinuating that the officer wasn’t doing his job ignores the facts surrounding this case.
Instead of criticizing police officers for doing their jobs, we might try to imagine what it would be like to go to work every day knowing that today may be the day you will risk your life to protect the citizens you serve.
Steven Betz is an attorney for Rains Lucia Stern PC and is a legal expert in defending police officers involved in critical incidents.