Fort Lauderdale busting speeding cops
By By Brittany Wallman, Sun-Sentinel
Originally published 08:44 p.m., August 21, 2008
Updated 08:45 p.m., August 21, 2008
FORT LAUDERDALE — What if your car spit out a report to the police department every time you hit 81 miles an hour?
To the chagrin of its police officers, the city of Fort Lauderdale is using satellite car-locaters in patrol cars to watch for speeding. Any officer driving faster than 80 - whether on duty or off - is busted.
Since the monitoring began a year ago, 29 officers have been written up or disciplined for speeding, according to city records. Some officers were caught driving faster than 90 mph, even while off duty, and one was nailed for speeding 30 times.
Law enforcement agencies across South Florida and the country use vehicle-locaters in police cars to help dispatchers find the closest officer to send to calls, or to find officers who might be in danger if they can't be reached on radio. But Fort Lauderdale may be unique in using it to monitor speed.
Internal affairs workers sift through the reports to determine who had a legitimate emergency and who was just too heavy on the accelerator. Punishment starts with a counseling slip and escalates.
"Very good," said Fort Lauderdale resident Todd Green.
Green regularly sees officers and deputies speeding on the interstate, he said, or flicking on lights to run through intersections. He said monitoring should be stricter: 80 mph is quite a cushion if you're in a speed zone of 35 mph, he noted.
"If you're going to give people tickets, don't use that car to get away with things," he said.
Spokesmen at some other police agencies, including Sunrise and Coral Springs, said they use satellite technology for locating police cars but not to catch uniformed speeders. Others, including West Palm Beach police and the Broward Sheriff's Office, said they don't have the equipment; they address officer speeding on a complaint basis. The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office is deploying laptops with positioning equipment but has no plans to use it to catch deputies speeding.
Chuck Canterbury, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police union, said he was familiar with Fort Lauderdale's speed-watching.
"It's showing bad faith in their officers," said Canterbury, based in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Like local police representatives, Canterbury said the public is often wrong when they think an officer has no legitimate reason to speed.
"There are many times a law enforcement officer exceeds the speed limit without blue lights and sirens," Canterbury said, citing burglar alarms or prowler calls as examples. "The public doesn't always understand that it's not the police officer running to get something to eat."
An officer turning on lights and sirens to get through an intersection, like Green mentioned, might have been dispatched to an emergency that was called off soon after, said Fort Lauderdale police spokesman, Sgt. Frank Sousa.
And an officer speeding on the interstate without lights and sirens might be using the subtle enforcement method of catching up to a speeder so the driver will see the marked car and slow down, said Fort Lauderdale police Sgt. Jack Lokeinsky, the local union president.
"It's an absurd waste of resources to once again try to justify their paranoia," Lokeinsky said of city administrators, who he said think the police department is "corrupt." The policy came about under former Chief Bruce Roberts, but City Manager George Gretsas has authority over the police department. The officers and Gretsas have been at odds.
City spokesman Ted Lawson defended the oversight, saying the devices further the police mission to "one, enforce the laws, and two, protect the public."
Lauderhill police Capt. Rick Rocco said most officers share the public's disdain for officers who speed with no good reason. His agency is buying the devices but hasn't created a policy on how to use them.
"What makes you so special, because you're driving a marked police car?" Rocco said. "I think the majority of officers feel that way, that they want to maintain a professional image. Just because you have a badge and the authority doesn't give you a right to violate the law."
Fort Lauderdale used to limit its speeding oversight to random checks, Lawson said.
Then in June 2006, Officer Alexander Griss, 23, hit Althea McKay, 39, a pedestrian on Federal Highway. Her body flew 102 feet. She died.
The global positioning system, manufactured by Trimble and called "The Placer," reported that Griss reached 91 mph where the limit was 40. He was not on his way to a call.
Griss was fired a year ago and charged with vehicular homicide. And the new enforcement began.
Griss' attorney, Mike Dutko, said he'll challenge the reliability of the technology when the case goes to trial in October. His experts said Griss was traveling between 60 mph and the low 70s.
Lokeinsky also questions The Placer's speed accuracy and said the city refuses to test it. He said the city has better things to spend time and money on than double-checking driving speeds.
"It's such a silly thing in the grand scheme of what we do for a living," he said.
Trimble executive Bob Skinner in Chantilly, Va., said the units are highly accurate speed detectors, if used on the right settings. But he said he's never heard of a police department using it like Fort Lauderdale does.