16 April, 2015

When Police Officer Reality Meets Public Perception

A lot is being made of this video, especially on local talk radio (WBEN ).  Tom Bauerle in particular has explained in the monologue portion of today's show that there are reasons such maneuvers are done.

First, for an emergency vehicle, these things (surprisingly) are legal.  (I thought that police were subject to the same laws as the citizenry, but this is obviously an exception.)  The stated reason is that seconds may sometimes count, that parking someplace else in order to go into a restaurant for something to eat may introduce additional, arguably unnecessary, delays in responding.  Explained this way, I think many if not most people would be OK with this.

But secondly, perception is reality.  This is such a short clip and without much context, so it is tough to judge all of what's going on here.  What Mr. Bauerle can't seem to get past (at least before I turned him off) is this simple adage.  It is perceived that this officer is overstepping his authority, or at that very least unduly asserting his authority (as in, maybe holding to the letter of the law, but not the spirit).  Ordinary, non-emergency folks a lot of times will do similar things, and think that by turning on their hazard flashers it somehow excuses the double parking.  Mr. Bauerle calls this tone snarky; I see (hear) it more as incredulity.  There was absolutely NO other place where these officers could have parked?  It just seems unlikely.  But again, this short video lacks that context.  Considering how ordinarily the Buffalo PD are quite helpful and professional, I would guess it WAS the case that no other space was available.  Plus, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt in general.

But here's the thing...I know Tom has undergone police training, and seems thoroughly versed in V&T law, but he can't seem to back away from that today and view this like an average citizen, and see this as a (minor) abuse of authority.  It's fairly obvious from this video (and how it has spread) that most folks are unaware of this exception in the law and the reasons for it.  This is especially surprising to me because he is an ardent supporter of Amendments IV and V of the U.S. Constitution.  In fact, he has recently spoken out about how the Erie County Sheriff's Office has used "stingray" devices to monitor cell phone activity, which to him (and me) is overstepping the bounds of Amendment IV.  In principle, the perception is similar, officers of the law doing something they see as ordinary, crime-fighting procedures, but the citizens don't think of it that way.

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