In the wake of two major crashes caused by speeding officers, the time has come to take “corrective action” and “change the culture” of speeding in the San Antonio Police Department, Chief William McManus said Thursday.
To that end, McManus said software soon will instantaneously clock the speed of patrol cars — triggering first a warning to the officers and then an alert to their supervisors should certain speeds be surpassed, an unusual measure not taken by many police departments nationwide.
“The mission of all this is to protect the officers and members of the public from the potential disaster of excessive speed,” McManus said in an interview. “It’s difficult to monitor officers’ speed out there on a real-time basis, so we’re going to make that happen.”
Thomas Aveni, co-founder of the Police Policy Studies Council in Spofford, N.H., called the measure unusual.
“I have not seen an agency that’s had to resort to this,” Aveni said. “It’s something that hasn’t caught on.”
In Texas, for example, the Houston and Austin departments don’t monitor speeds. The Dallas Police Department has done so for the past five years, although “it’s not something that’s monitored around the clock,” Dallas Senior Cpl. Kevin Janse said.
McManus said the Police Department already possesses GPS software capable of enabling the real-time monitoring, and so no new costs would be incurred.
The monitoring software, he said, would serve primarily as a system to warn officers of their speeds.
“The mission that we’re trying to accomplish is to protect people, not to punish people,” he said. “We don’t want to make it so restrictive that the officers can’t do their jobs.”
When an officer surpasses a speed, a message will arrive on his mobile laptop and produce an audible alert, police spokesman Sgt. Chris Benavides said. The officer’s supervisor would receive an alert if the officer surpasses a higher threshold.
The labor relations committee currently is deliberating those thresholds. Also, officials haven’t yet resolved the issue of varying speed limits on city roadways.
Last year, Officer David Seaton was topping 100 mph on a road with a 45-mph speed limit in response to a nonemergency call when his patrol car struck and fatally injured Officer Robert Davis, who was clearing flares at an unrelated car wreck.
Seaton pleaded guilty to manslaughter and aggravated assault charges. He surrendered his peace officer’s license and faces a 10-year prison sentence.
And last month, Officer Joanna Williams revved her patrol car to 98 mph on a street with a 40-mph limit before veering and slamming into oncoming traffic, seriously injuring the wife of a former councilman and Officer Dennis Quinn, a passenger in the patrol car.
Quinn’s pelvis was fractured in multiple places. Barbara Webb, the 65-year-old wife of former Councilman Joe Webb, suffered broken ribs and injuries to the knees, arm and head in the crash. Police still are investigating the incident.
“In the wake of Davis’ death and the most recent high-speed accident, we figured we needed to come up with some substantive ways to fix that,” McManus said.
So he brought a proposal to monitor officers’ speeds before the Police Department’s labor relations committee, a group composed of members of the police officers’ association and other officers appointed by McManus. Last week, the committee decided to move forward with the plan.
Mike Helle, president of the association, expressed measured optimism.
“I’m kind of in the wait-and-see mode myself,” Helle said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be more of an annoyance, but I think over time the policemen will see it as a useful tool.”
He added, “Sometimes, I think we may forget what speed we’re going. As long as it’s not used as a punitive measure, and it’s as a reminder, I think it will work out well.”
McManus said he also plans to alter a curriculum at the training academy to “further emphasize (driving) safety” and revise a point system that determines penalties for patrol car accidents.