Police Conduct

            The Waterbury Police Department fired a police officer. It was news around the state. I have a bit of experience dealing with terminations of police officers as I have spent the last 25 years of my career representing police unions. At one time I represented the Waterbury Police Union. But it has been about a decade since I last represented the Brass City’s officers, so I think I have enough distance now to comment on the matter.

            Many of you have probably seen the video. It shows an officer who loses his temper and then rides that rage for several minutes while yelling at a female driver. She appeared to have ignored his hand signals while he was directing traffic at one of the more dangerous intersections in Waterbury.

            The video seems to show that the driver went through the intersection at a fairly high rate of speed, although her speed is difficult to judge relative to other traffic, I couldn’t tell you if the car was going 20 miles an hour or 40. The video also seems to show somewhat ambiguous traffic signals by the officer.

            However, there are indications that the officer was standing in the middle of the road near his cruiser with its flashing lights engaged. That should have been enough information for the driver to know to proceed with caution. The video seems to show that the driver was likely not as cautious as she could have been.

            In any event, the officer’s reaction was explosive. He was clearly angry, and it is apparent that he felt that his life was in danger by the incident. Police officers understand that they are tasked with performing a dangerous job, but they have a reasonable expectation that the risks will not be made greater by negligence of others. They have seen their comrades die in the line of duty, and they certainly do not want to be the next victim of tragedy. So it is understandable that anger would arise when lack of attention placed them in danger.

            Secondly, when each of us goes to work, it is not always easy to leave the rest of our lives behind. We carry the stresses of our lives with us, and, from time to time, we can overreact. Usually an event is the trigger, not the cause, for the overreaction. Something else was likely going on in this officer’s life at the time of this event. That would be a fair surmise.

            Certainly the officer’s reaction was a bad look. But even though we treat our police officers like superheroes, most of us know from first-hand experience that they are just men and women like the rest of us who behave like human beings like the rest of us. Cops need to be respectful of the public in their interactions, but sometimes emotions can get the best of all of us.

            Reports have not been clear about this officer’s history or possible past misconduct. But termination seems harsh in light of the circumstances that we know. I would expect that the officer should apologize for his behavior publicly, and he should undergo retraining and anger management counseling. He should probably be suspended, and even placed on probation, to make sure this never happens again. But termination seems a bit too far. He is human after all. Sometimes we forget that because we have put our men and women in blue on a pedestal that few ever asked for, we are placing a burden on them that few can live up to.

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