News4Jax reports that there was a third officer-involved crash in less than a week on I-295 between the Buckman Bridge and Roosevelt early Monday morning. It involved an Orange Park police officer. According to the Florida Highway Patrol report, the officer lost control of his vehicle on the wet roadway and hit the outside emergency parking lane on U.S. 17. He had minor injuries from the crash. The second officer-involved crash happened at about 8:30 p.m. Sunday near the intersection of East Bay and North Ocean streets. The police officer was heading west on E. Bay Street toward the Main Street Bridge. Investigators believe another car heading into downtown ran a red light and side swiped the cruiser. Two police officers were in the cruiser that was hit. The driver had neck pain after the crash. He was likely injured when the airbag deployed, thus he was taken to the hospital for treatment. The other officer and the driver of the other car both were not hurt. A third officer-involved crash happened Thursday evening in Middleburg when a Clay County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant was transported to the hospital from a hit-and-run crash. Police say the driver of a truck turned into the path of the patrol car. After the crash, the truck took off south on Blanding Boulevard. Deputies are looking for a two-toned Ford F-250. The top of the vehicle is a dark color and the bottom is tan. Deputies say the vehicle has front-end damage. Anyone with information on these crashes should call police.
Each year, an average of 7,400 law enforcement–involved crashes occur in Florida, killing 20 people, injuring 2,400 people, and causing $25 million in property damage.4
Seventy-seven percent of these collisions occurred when officers were not involved in pursuits or emergency responses. However, officers nevertheless were exceeding the speed limit by at least 20 mph in 141 of those crashes—8 of which resulted in fatalities and 25 in serious injuries.5 (The aforementioned Sun Sentinel study found that Florida officers exceeding the speed limit have caused at least 320 crashes and 19 deaths since 2004.6)
Twenty-six officers were involved in four or more crashes during that five-year period.7
Officers were determined to be at least partially at fault in about 25 percent of these crashes. When they were found at fault, they were ticketed fewer than 11 percent of the time compared to at-fault nonofficers who were cited more than 64 percent of the time.8
(For a seven-year period [2004–2010], the Sun Sentinel similarly concluded that Florida law enforcement officers who were involved in 320 crashes caused by their speeding were cited in 37 [12 percent] of them, while nonofficers who were involved in 54,579 crashes caused by their speeding during that same period of time were cited in 29,752 [55 percent] of them.9)
Chiefs and sheriffs need to act now to prevent the needless deaths of and the serious injuries to their officers and those citizens with whom their officers share the road. Reasonable policies need to be developed, taught, and enforced in order to safeguard officers and those they serve; provide concrete information that supports promulgated policies and against which officers can appreciate the magnitude of their responses, instilling in them such facts as 90 seconds is the difference between traveling 10 miles at 80 mph and the same distance at 100 mph, and one minute is the difference between traveling 5 miles at 50 mph and the same distance at 60 mph; and hold officers strictly accountable for compliance.