2007-06-12

UGA cops who like to stop transit buses

Word on the street is that Officer M. Rice of the UGA Police Department recently stopped a Campus Transit bus and gave the driver a warning for having the high beams on. This was done in broad daylight in front of Soule Hall on Sanford Drive. Making this stop required traffic to be blocked long enough to write the warning. Sanford Drive is a narrow street with only two lanes and no shoulder at that portion.

Although high beams are a technical violation, is this a good use of police resources? Is it worth interrupting a transit route and blocking traffic for several minutes? The frustrating part was that the driver had only been driving the bus for less than 30 seconds; she had just relieved the previous driver around the corner at the previous stop. Again, any hazard presented by the lights was mitigated by the bright daylight at the time.

This brings to mind another questionable traffic stop in early 2004. An Officer Williams stopped a bus during a busy time of day to write a ticket for failure to yield. The driver had been pulling back into traffic from a bus bay in front of Tucker Hall when a UGA police car stayed motionless after cars in front of it had moved on under the light that had turned green. The bus driver understood this to be the courteous act of letting the bus back into traffic. Officer Williams who was driving the police car thought otherwise. The likely explanation for Williams' delay in moving forward was seen by a witness who attested by affidavit that Williams was using a cell phone and seem to be distracted at the time of the light change. Again, the impression people got was that this was another arrogant police officer with no respect for his profession or the community he is serving.

I do personally know some respectable police officers working for UGA, but this police department is raising questions about the proverbial bad apples. Also, I emphasize that I am repeating secondhand information, and there could be important facts I don't know about, but I trust my sources enough to share these stories. I usually prefer not to pass along complaints like this in a public fashion, but it is important to make the university community aware of this problem.

7 comments:

Polusplagchnos said...

I know Ofc. Rice. He wouldn't act out of maliciousness or officiousness. As I understand it, there were a number of vehicles who flashed the bus to indicate that the high beams were on.

But, uh, two incidents over three years doesn't indicate a pattern, does it? (I mean, take into consideration the turnover rate during those three years.)

Adrian said...

There were a number of vehicles who supposedly flashed this bus, but then the relieving driver who was only on for 30 seconds hadn't turned them, and headlights are not something you check when you're taking over a bus at a service stop. Officer Rice should have called the bus or dispatcher on the radio and asked the driver to turn those lights off. It was entirely unnecessary to stop a bus in the only travel lane which blocks traffic for everyone and delays the entire bus route.

Actually, P, there are other incidents. What I have named here are examples.

Adrian said...

Furthermore, P, the fact that you think that it's OK to interrupt a bus route and block traffic for anything less than an immediate safety issue indicates a problem with your department's thinking, and the fact that you would write your comment to defend that stop indicates that you have adopted that thinking yourself.

Polusplagchnos said...

Are you saying that if I climb into a vehicle to drive it, I'm not responsible for its insurance status or registration status for the first minute or so of my occupancy of it?

UGA officers do not routinely call up Campus Transit over the radio. To do so, they'd have to switch over to Mutual Aid, relay the message to CT dispatch, have CT dispatch relay the message from Mutual Aid to the appropriate bus, after figuring out which bus the officer is talking about. The system is not that helpful for when there are emergencies (I know from one night in particular), but I suppose, for whatever reasons, it's not been made practical for CT drivers and UGA officers to talk to one another over the radio. While this radio traffic wouldn't have occupied a physical street, it would have occupied the abstract traffic of the radio system. And, tie it up not for an emergency situation, which leads us to ask just what sort of tying up of resources is appropriate.

I'm not defending the stop, so much as just making it clear that Rice does not have a hard-on for wilful malevolence or officer indiscretion. He's hardly the sort of person who would stop a UGA transit bus simply because he has the power and audacity to do so. So, to be clear, I'm defending him from some implied or overt accusation of being malicious or of being an asshole. Surely you can see the difference between standing up for someone's character and defending unwise traffic stops.

But, to be sure, just what is the rotten stink these "bad apples" are producing? My concern is with a possible or actual implication of departmental arrogance from the UGAPD towards the Campus Transit. "Liking to stop" has this air of intentional harassment about it, as though the cops ain't got nothing better to do than stop buses. If you think the stop was flawed on the grounds that it unnecessarily delayed traffic, then what does that have to do with "liking to stop" CT buses? If Rice made a bad call that day, why should that have anything to do with a department producing bad apples? Because of what happened on one stop in 2004 and "other incidents?"

I mean, are you saying these are "bad apples" because they don't take into consideration circumstances benefiting the greater good—and so are not malicious but just short-sighted—or are you saying these are "bad apples" because they would rather damn the world's time table to write a warning to a bus driver—and so are not short-sighted but malicious?

I mean, another arrogant officer... in the context of producing bad apples, does suggest the latter rather than the former. And if that's the way you feel about it, and if that's the way you perceive it, then let's hear more of these other incidents that has so stunk the air of Athens.

As for my own experience, the only thing I've adopted is a fascination for how perception rules everything. I could get fancy pants and quote Baudrillard and talk about hyperreality, but I'll just settle for this. The department has its patient officers and its impatient ones. I'd rather attribute to ignorance the actions of others rather than reach directly for malevolence or maliciousness.

Charity in all things, man.

Adrian said...

The ignorance of the officers is also quite a reasonable explanation, although there is just a general sense that there is arrogance among many officers. Major Tim Smith only confirmed this in my mind this morning.

I called and spoke to him to share my opinions, and he chose to pick apart the details from my examples and ignore my general message; he tried to restate my position into ridiculous questions such as "So you're saying we shouldn't stop drivers who break Georgia laws?"; he questioned my ability to speak for others and thereby discounted and belittled my opinion; he even questioned the reasons I should be able to share an opinion in the first place. In other words, he was arrogant and argumentative. He stayed civil, as did I, but he was not respectful of my opinions. If he had the level of interpersonal skills that an entry-level officer should have, meaning he could have respectfully listened to my message and gotten on with his morning, we would have been on the phone for only 3 minutes instead of 16.

Tim said...

I think what may be underlying this discussion is something that has been increasingly bothering me about police and their tactics. I see more and more injection of military tactics/mindset into local policing and I think that is a very dangerous thing. Drive out to Oconee sometime and look around at the ridiculous sheriff's department we have. That department is shot through with deputies with the marine style haircut, the bad-ass attitude, and the force at all opportunity mindset.
I wonder if that was at play in this incident? I don't know the officer in question and I admittedly don't see as much of the military BS on the UGA police as I do in the Oconee force, but then I have heard the comment that UGA police aren't 'real cops', whatever that means.
So I wonder if this was an incident that was more about exercise of power rather than common sense?

Polusplagchnos said...

I honestly can't say if your perception is justified or not, but I recognize that it is yours and you're presenting it, Adrian. I guess if you were dissatisfied with his treatment of your concerns, continue to go up the chain of command until you feel you've reached some resolution. Every supervisor has a boss.

Tim, I sympathize with your concerns over militarization of the police. From a philosophical standpoint, it's been the subversive problem with policing ever since its beginnings in seventeenth century Europe. Police, policy, politics, polemics, polemos, polity, polite—the relationships are difficult ones and there is too much polysemy. But this isn't a problem with the UGAPD.