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Cop Causes Crash

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

McHenry County, Illinois

Cop Causes Crash

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
November 12, 2008


A young police officer was enroute to a call, when he got involved in a crash; an "accident", some call it. He was a rookie, new to police work and in his first year. He knew he had caused the accident. What did he do?

He got out and wrote himself a ticket!

Years later that officer, Reuben Greenberg, served as the first black police chief of the Charleston (S.C.) Police Department.

I read that story in Reader's Digest years ago, and it has always stuck with me.

As a young police officer he had a lot of choices. He could have blamed the accident on the other driver. His supervisor could have coached the officer and "shaped" the police report to fix the blame on the other driver. His supervisor could have told him not to ticket himself.

But the officer knew what was right. His core ethics were the basis for accepting responsibility and moving on. And move on, he did. Through several positions and departments until he became the top cop in Charleston.

What happens in McHenry County when a deputy is involved in an accident (a "crash") and is at fault? When he knows, and the facts are clear, that he caused the accident? Deputies drive a lot of miles, and they are expected to multi-task while operating a motor vehicle. Some would say they are required to DWD - Drive While Distracted. They must operate emergency equipment, take on the police radio, use any in-car computer, legally drive above the speed limit or against a red light in certain circumstances, make U-turns, be responsible for prisoners in their patrol vehicles. They have a lot to do while driving. You'll even see some talking on their handheld cell phones, just like many other drivers.

When they do get into accidents (crashes), if they are at fault, it should not be covered up. Reports should be accurate and correct from the first writing. If a ticket is warranted, it should be issued to a deputy, just as it would be to any other driver.

Accidents involving a deputy should not be investigated by his own department, just as accidents involving police officers should not be investigated by their own departments. If a police officer of, say, Woodstock is involved in an accident, the Sheriff's Department is called to investigate it. But who investigates an accident involving a deputy? The Sheriff's Department? Or should the Illinois State Police be called or, if a trooper is not available, a nearby police department?

Absent extraordinary circumstances, being involved in a crash doesn't make the deputy who causes it a "bad" guy (or gal). It happens. Handle it correctly. It's over.

Is that the way it happens in McHenry County?



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