Expert: Officers Risk Lives For Speeding Tickets

POSTED: 5:48 pm EDT September 13, 2006
UPDATED: 6:39 pm EDT September 13, 2006
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- A common police technique is under fire. Local police risk their lives to stop speeders by stepping into oncoming traffic.

The WESH 2 I-Team investigated whether the practice cost an officer his life and if it is putting your life in danger.

I-TEAM reporter Stephen Stock uncovered an alarming fact -- there's no training for this risky police procedure, but it happens nearly every day.
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Has anyone ever darted out in front of your moving car? Albert Key said it scared him to death when it happened to him.

"You could have hit him?" Stock asked Key.

"I almost did hit him," Key said.

The person darting out in front of Key was a police officer targeting speeders on the onramp to Interstate 4. The officer gave Key two traffic tickets.

"It's beyond stupid. It's insane," Key said.

One day later, more law enforcement officers were in the same spot on foot, pulling over speeders. Only this time, Orange County sheriff's Deputy Michael Callin was actually struck by a car in the same spot where Key got his tickets the day before. Callin later died of his injuries.

"If I had even turned my head for a second, that guy could have walked out in front of me, and I'd be right where that kid is now," Key said.

That kid -- Allan Barahona -- ran over Callin. As fate would have it, Key was just a few cars away driving his usual route to work. Key took pictures of the scene.

Key said it never should have happened. He said when officers work the side of the road they're invisible and take chances with their own safety.

"This guy is perfectly camouflaged and has no clue that he's even being camouflaged, just inadvertently, just, you know, human error," Key said.

Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary said his officers must take risks all the time.

"Should your officers not be standing there?" Stock asked the sheriff.

"We've got a job to do, and right now, minus the violent crime issue, traffic is the No. 1 complaint that I get from citizens," Beary said.

Witnesses inside the car that hit Callin told police investigators they believed Barahona saw Callin in time to avoid hitting him or at least hit the brakes. That's why Barahona is now charged with murder.

"We took over 13,000 traffic complaints last year. So, we've got to do something. If it's putting them out there in a vest that's a little more visible or something, we can try to those things," Beary said.

"It's a no-brainer. It's not a safe way to do anything," Key said.

To see for ourselves, the WESH 2 I-Team went to the exact spot where Callin was struck around the same time of day. Stock almost disappeared against the white sky and concrete, and in the shadows, he was very difficult to see.

Even so, just this week, the I-Team found Florida Highway Patrol troopers standing on the very same interstate onramp where Callin was killed. They were pulling over motorists while on foot just 500 feet from the very spot where Callin fell.

"At higher speeds, it's extremely dangerous," said police technique trainer Greg DiFranza.

"You don't think it's a good idea?" Stock asked.

"I think it's unsafe because of things like this," DiFranza said.

DiFranza is a top instructor at the University of North Florida's Institute of Police Technology and Management. He teaches traffic stop techniques to hundreds of police officers from around the country each year.

In his 22-year teaching career, he's never taught anyone to pull speeders over while standing along a highway.

"I don't teach that. We don't teach that here at the Institute of Police Technology and Management. I don't know of anybody who does teach it as a matter of course," he said.

DiFranza said that officers standing along high-speed roadways and pulling people over is so dangerous and so unaccepted in the law enforcement training community that there are no guidelines. He said there are no procedure manuals and no rules for how to do it right.

Even so, the I-Team checked with every law enforcement agency in Central Florida and discovered that none -- not one agency -- has a policy which prevents their officers from pulling people over while on foot.

"Was that an unsafe situation to put Deputy Callin in and the other deputies in to flag people down on foot?" Stock asked Beary.

"I will tell you that motorcycle cops and traffic cops always have to be on the side of the road. It's a dangerous job. And are we always looking for ways to make it safer? The answer to that is yes," the sheriff said.

"Do you think agencies are going to take a harder look at this policy?" Stock asked DiFranza.

"I think they should," he said. "I think they should for officers' safety sake."

Jumping into traffic on a busy highway not only puts officers at risk but also the drivers.

The I-Team asked the Florida Highway Patrol about that, and a spokeswoman said there is no policy governing the practice and that it's up to individual troopers, just like every other law enforcement agency.