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Law Enforcement Exempt?
updated: Aug 07, 2014, 1:45 PM

By Edhat Subscriber

My wife & I see more & more law enforcement (CHP & SBSO) officers in our area using hand held cell phones while driving. We also see most patrol cars have the dash mounted laptop computers and often times these are being used while the officer is driving.

Are Law enforcement, fire, emergency vehicle drivers exempt from both cell phone laws and texting while in their vehicles?

I ask due to this recent LA Times article about a texting officer who killed a cyclist!

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 542901P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-08-07 02:00 PM

As long as it's official LEO biz - but "official business" is difficult to define as they fly by you in their car... many police use their cell after the initial call for better communication as well as to thwart listening criminals and honest scanner dudes (someone comes to mind, his name slips my mind)


 COMMENT 542902P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-08-07 02:01 PM

Thanks for forwarding the link. I suspect that they are exempt either by law or by the fact that no one else is there to enforce the law on them.

That said, the case referenced seems to beg the question why wasn't the officer charged with some form of manslaughter. Perhaps more importantly, why wasn't he charged with obstruction of justice. It would appear form the overview of the facts that he likely both lied about whether he had been texting and that he attempted to superficially destroy evidence by deleting the texts from his phone.

I applaud the officer who sought the search warrant but it does still feels as though some police officers feel enabled to commit offences just because there is no one there to catch them. In this case it had very tragic consequences.

This also seems like a good example of when a civil lawsuit should be filed. The city should be held accountable since by the mere fact that they elected not to prosecute the officer they in effect appear to have condoned his actions.

If they had prosecuted the officer and were clearly setting the tone that no one is above the law then I would be against a civil suit against the city.


 COMMENT 542907P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-08-07 02:13 PM

Not to mention what LA Sheriff's dept. is going through, a massive number of issues, investigations and lawsuits. Heck they're being investigated by the FBI. Glad this was covered in the news.
Personally, locally, I don't drive every day and haven't seen it here. I do see LE parked and doing paperwork after calls.


 COMMENT 542908P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-08-07 02:16 PM

I did find some news articles but not legal code:

"Boy, do I get a ton of similar complaints. Police and other emergency workers are exempt from the hands-free cellphone law, though several departments urge their officers to use handheld devices and some have provided them with headsets. Here is why they are exempt:

Police often use cellphones for work, freeing up radio airtime while they make calls related to police business. Sometimes they need confidential information that they don't want to be picked up by anyone listening to a police scanner.

Other times they are calling people who have called police. And cellphones are a handy tool when calling another police agency that does not share the same radio channel.


 COMMENT 542909P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-08-07 02:17 PM

"But why can't they make those calls on hands-free devices? Here's one reason: Many officers wear an earpiece for their portable radio in one ear, and background noise from police radios, scanners and sirens can make hearing difficult. Fitting a Bluetooth headset over an existing earpiece is not practical, police say.

Do they ever use it for personal use? I'm sure some do, and I wish they realized how many of you are watching."



 COMMENT 542913 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-08-07 02:26 PM

No, they are not exempt. LEOs are required to obey all traffic laws just like everyone else. Having lights and siren blazing gives them a little more flexibility but it's not specified how much in the Vehicle Code.

Texting while driving on Mulholland Drive is criminal negligence but the blue wall is protecting this deputy. Had he been off duty and in another jurisdiction (agencies bust cops from other agencies to show they are not soft on cops but internal reviews are always soft) he might have faced a different tune.


 COMMENT 542916 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-08-07 02:31 PM

Just to add to this, SBPD was issued cell phones with blue tooth a while back but unfortunately their squad cars aren't equipped to handle blue tooth through the speaker system as 909 pointed out. There are also other reasons wearing an ear-peace over the existing one just won't work.

And as far as using cell phones for personal use, I am sure it happens on occasion, but rarely. There is just way too much going on when an officer is on patrol. 99% of the time you see an officer on the phone it is because he is dealing with phone followups with witnesses, detectives and other officers. Most of what officers discuss in the field does not go over the radio due to privacy reasons. I just took a defensive driving class with a bunch of CHP officers and SBPD and this exact question OP asked was brought up. I quote:

"We are exempt from the cellphone while driving laws, but we try to minimize use as much as possible. But even when we are not on our phones we are scanning ahead a 1/4 mile, scanning side streets, scanning alleys, looking behind us, listening to the radio and using our MDCs all while driving and watching for traffic. We are the epitome of distracted driving without even being on a cell phone. It's a job requirement"


 COMMENT 542918 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-08-07 02:38 PM

Surprised anyone has to ask if Police, a private security force for the city corporation, operates 'above the law'. We all know the answer.


 COMMENT 542922 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-08-07 02:44 PM

Up in Santa Maria, it's the bus drivers, they speed by going too fast, don't stop at bus crossings and are often on their cell phones.


 COMMENT 542930 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-08-07 03:09 PM

LA times had an article on that LA accident today- they re-examined the Deputy's cell usage that day and found 7 text messages right before the collision. Now they will probably have to charge the officer with manslaughter and I hope they demote the original investigator who tried to cover up the cell phone usage by saying the records didn't show ANY use.

He was so distracted he didn't hit the brakes before killing the cyclist. Going to pay out a lot of your tax dollars to the family.


 COMMENT 542933 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-08-07 03:13 PM

The police are never at fault for brutality, recklessness, manslaughter, or murder from what observe. They are "absolved" in at least 99 % of incidences. I don't talk to them and would always vote against them on a jury when they testify.


 COMMENT 542947 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-08-07 04:02 PM

Vehicle Code 23123(d) articulates that emergency responders are in fact except from the hands free law while on duty.

Sorry 913.


 COMMENT 542948 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-08-07 04:10 PM

Exempted, no except, unless you were thinking of excepted. Since the VC is a set of man-made rules, exempted is the proper word. Or maybe it's exempt. Darn English. ;-)


 COMMENT 542966 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-08-07 05:00 PM

There was a YouTube video posted on CNN a while back showing a truck driver "pulling over" a highway patrolman to call him out on 1) Speeding without lights or sirens and 2) talking on his cellphone.

The video ended with the highway patrolman apologizing profusely for the incident and admitted on camera law enforcement personnel are not above the law without lights and sirens on.


 COMMENT 542971 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-08-07 05:11 PM

Related: Can a citizen effect a citizens arrest on an on-duty police officer if they see him/her committing a crime or other violation not immediately related to duty? Or for that matter an off-duty police officer?


 COMMENT 542974P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-08-07 05:18 PM

I asked my friend who is a SB Sheriff Sergent (Sergeant?), and he said that they were exempt. They actually encourage their officers to carry and use their cell phone for official business while on duty, as there are many things they don't want broadcast over the airwaves, with people listening in and misinterpreting it. [Before Roger takes offense, yes, Edhat was specifically mentioned. Many calls that initially seem to be one thing to 911 operators end up being something else entirely.]


 COMMENT 542999P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-08-07 06:28 PM

Fortunately Roger can cut throughout the scannereze and decipher it all for us.

Thanks, Rog!


 COMMENT 543001P agree helpful negative off topic

2014-08-07 06:33 PM

@971. You should try it. See how that goes.


 COMMENT 543086 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-08-08 10:45 AM

Roger, they're making your "job" easier by keeping some of their "official business" secret. Do you wonder what you're not hearing?


 COMMENT 543087 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-08-08 10:48 AM

933 is correct and I agree. I avoid the police whenever I see them. They are in a fat-boy club and they act as if they are above the law. Someone needs to police them!


 COMMENT 543197 agree helpful negative off topic

2014-08-08 03:24 PM

Police have become the enemy of the people by their own choices and actions. Sure, police help all the time and catch criminals all the time. But that's no excuse for letting thugs with a badge and gun go free when they ruin lives or shoot people that are unarmed, or beat people to death. That they do this is why they have made themselves an enemy, that's how they treat the population and that's how they talk about them- with contempt. I avoid them also, even though I know some officers and I know they're good guys, they can't be trusted once they put on that uniform.

The blue line and covering their butts takes precedence over anything else, even when crimes by officers are filmed for the world to see in plain view. I remember as a kid, even a teenager, the cops were the good guys and you could go to them for help. Now, I wouldn't dare for fear of getting shot or pounded.


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