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Thu., Oct. 8
Serving the communities of Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties, New York
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Double standard


The Watertown city police report describing the illegal actions of a patrolman rushing to break up a bar fight was clear. It said Officer George A. Cummings “is at fault due to speed and failure to clear an intersection during emergency operation.” That imprudent action resulted in serious injury to an innocent motorist, who had heard the siren of the approaching patrol car and halted. Police investigators said in their report that the speeding patrol car skidded and then slammed into the stopped car.

The driver was trapped in his car. Emergency workers extricated him from the crumbled car and took him to Upstate Medical University in a helicopter for treatment.

At that point the Police Department adopted what appears to be the policy used by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department when investigating the actions of policemen — ignore the law and deal with the case internally out of view of the public. The accident will be looked at by a five-member accident review board in the Police Department. The panel looks at contributing factors of the crash and their findings are sent to the police chief to review. The chief decides whether disciplinary action should be taken. No tickets are issued.

Drivers of emergency vehicles — whether a policeman, fireman or ambulance driver — have been under more scrutiny in the recent past as society attempts to reduce risk of high speed chases. The expectations under the laws are clear. Drivers of emergency vehicles are trained to be sure that there is a clear, safe path through an intersection before entering. Flashing lights and screaming sirens are merely tools to help assure motorists are protected, not shields of immunity.

The police report was clear when it accused the officer of failing to follow procedure, running a red light and causing an accident resulting in severe injury. But then declaring this action an internal matter by referring it to the Police Department bureaucracy to recommend disciplinary action is hard to understand.

The officer should be handled in the same way any civilian would be treated. Issue a ticket and let a jury or judge decide innocence or guilt.

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