A sheriff’s deputy talking on his cell phone at a stoplight recently prompted a Deer Park resident to complain to Spokane County that the deputy wasn’t following the law.
Fact is, the deputy, as well as firefighters and ambulance drivers, are exempt from the law requiring motorists to use hands-free cell phone devices. But public complaints and an acknowledgement by top officials that it’s necessary to set a good example have prompted local and state authorities to ask their troops to comply with the law whenever possible.
“We sent out a note that our expectation and guiding principle is that we want our officers to follow the law as the public does,” said Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick.
Several residents in Spokane, Cheney, Deer Park and Spokane Valley who responded to an e-mail inquiry from the newspaper agree that’s a good decision. They are willing to allow an exception for an emergency situation, but an officer sitting in his car at a stoplight is not one of them, they say.
“I think that they should lead by example and definitely follow the law, and be more diligent in ticketing those who are continuing to yak while driving,” said Mike Maehl, of Spokane.
“How can they justify enforcing a law that they are not keeping themselves? I have seen several policemen using their cell phones without using a hands-free device since the law has been in effect,” said Spokane resident Merri Nickerson.
Authorities say public complaints have been minimal, but they got the message loud and clear from those who voiced an opinion. “We realize it’s a public perception issue,” said Spokane County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Dave Reagan.
Local and state authorities say they are in the middle of equipping officers who have department-issued cell phones with hands-free devices, such as Bluetooth – $65 each at the government rate. Some officers think the request is unnecessary because they already are required to multitask, including typing on a mobile data computer in their car.
That argument doesn’t sway Ansano S. Giumtini.
“I believe that police officers should be required to abide by the law just like everyone else,” Giumtini wrote in an e-mail. “Police officers are already required to multitask in their duties. For their safety and the safety of the public, they should not engage in any additional distractions.”