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Letter to the Editor: It's the law enforce it

By A. Ross Horsley
Former Carbon County Sheriff


After reading two different letters to the editor pertaining to the accident on the overpass on Aug. 27, and as a retired peace officer of almost 30 years, I feel compelled to make a comment.

First, let me say that I am not criticizing in any way the feelings of the previous writers. But they, along with the majority of people, maybe have a wrong interpretation of an officer's responsibility in accident investigation. Involving the determination of fault, and the issuing of traffic citations. The police can do many things the public think they can't. And the police can't do many things the public thinks they should. Many people say, "It's the law; enforce it." This is true in many cases, but not so much in others, especially in traffic law. Police have to make judgment calls every day. This is where good common sense comes in, with black and white and gray.

People say "It's the law, enforce it!" Let me say, if all traffic laws were strictly enforced, you'd all be walking within 30 days. I'd like to meet the person who could drive to work and back tomorrow without breaking a traffic law. In many things the rule is black and white. In policing there is a lot of grey, depending on circumstances. This makes judges out of the police. This is where training, experience, circumstances, and investigation come together. I have never known a department to need to set up traffic ticket quotas for their officers. If they are out there doing their job, the officers are bound to see violations that deserve citations.

Many two-car accidents have a certain amount of liability on both drivers, not just the one that may have made the most obvious violation. Just because someone broke a traffic law doesn't mean that they are going to be totally responsible civilly. Sometimes based on an officer's investigation, he should write two tickets, one for each driver. The circumstances concerning how and why an accident happened are a part of the trained investigative officer's decisions. At times the case may end up in public court when a driver pleads not guilty on a citation, then in civil court over payment of damages. Many times a driver may plead guilty on a citation, pay a fine, and then go to civil court, and not have to pay for the damages because he did not bear the full liability in causing the accident. The fact that he pled guilty on the criminal case cannot be brought up in civil court.

Back in the 60s and 70s I ran a traffic school for the juvenile court system. Part of a juvenile's fine was usually to go to traffic school on Saturday mornings. I showed accident films and gave a lecture, then opened the class up for questions. I really enjoyed doing this, as it gave me an opportunity to communicate with the youth and explain some of the laws and the decision-making process used by police officers.

In defense of the policeman's wife involved in the accident on the overpass, I have to place my trust in the decision made by the investigating officers.

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