Editor’s note: This is the latest story covering the Red Wing Police Department Citizen Academy. Reporter Matthew Lambert will recount the events that unfold in each class, sharing details and observations of what he experienced during his time in the academy.
For some, seeing the red and blue flashing lights behind you could be a matter of inconvenience and annoyance.
You had somewhere to be so you decided to go 40 in a 30. Or you just looked at your phone because you wanted to change the song. Or maybe you forgot to change your tabs on time.
I could go on and on, but really I'm just projecting at this point.
This week's academy brought in Capt. Gordon Rohr, a veteran of the Red Wing Police Department, who let everyone know he had turned 50 the day before, meaning his retirement is coming sometime next decade.
Rohr talked to the class about traffic laws, the bane of existence for drivers and officers alike.
I may come across as a saint in my columns, but if you can fathom it, I've been pulled over on multiple occasions in my life.
But I've never gotten a ticket! That's right. No ticket. It must be my charming personality.
The most I've gotten was a written warning. This came a week after getting my instructional permit.
I was driving in South Dakota. It was late, Labor Day weekend. The reason I was driving was for an inebriated adult. We were responsible.
Driving out in the country, I saw the lights behind me. The passengers were laughing, I was freaked out.
The officer said I fluctuating speed and driving in-and-out of lane. The officer was worried that I was a drunken driver, I get that with the holiday weekend. He let me go.
On another occasion, two years later and going out to South Dakota again, I was pulled over on Interstate 90 near Blue Earth for an air freshener hanging from my rearview mirror.
No warning, written or otherwise, but it was inconvenience all the same.
Even my wife reminds me when we are on the stretch of roadway leaving Pine Island the time, when she was an 18-year-old, she was pulled over for going 32 in a 30 mph zone. (The most emotional part of the story is when she proclaims she was a mere feet from the zone changing to 40 mph.)
Routine meets risk
Most drivers have a story about how they've felt like public enemy No. 1.
But my tune has changed after listening to Rohr.
Rohr showed the class a video of an officer approaching a vehicle through dash cam footage. While the video and audio quality isn't great, the driver clearly sounds inebriated. You can basically smell the booze leaking through the speakers.
After some minor questions, a handgun emerges from the window, waved in the officer's face. Thankfully the officer evades the firing weapon, takes cover behind the vehicle and fires himself. The vehicle then takes off and runs into a telephone pole just yards away.
If that driver would've been able to keep his focus for just a moment, he could've killed that officer.
As Rohr would say: that's the approach officers have to take, like their life is on the line at any moment.
Rohr said they stagger themselves when approaching the window, positioning themselves near where the door open and closes, still able to have a conversation with the driver and see the rest of the vehicle and its possible inhabitants.
The academy hasn't even gotten to the fact that officers are killed every year by drivers who don't move over during a traffic stop. Between auto crashes and being struck by a vehicle, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund cited that 41 officer deaths caused by those two factors in 2017.
An officer pulling over a vehicle for a routine traffic stop shouldn't be a dicey situation.
Rohr tells officers to have backup during traffic stops, in situations where they may be uncomfortable or unsure.
If I go to take a picture of students at Sunnyside Elementary making arts and crafts, there shouldn't be a slightly high probability of one of those kids taking a safety scissors to my throat.
What I'm saying is that's a routine scenario for me, just like officers pulling over drivers on the road.
While I still might mutter to myself that cops are trying to meet their quota whenever I see a car pulled to the side of the highway, the safety of those who serve needs to be more closely observed.
I think we need a traffic laws ethics course for teenagers. Maybe they covered that in driver's education and I missed it.