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Just how fast is okay

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

McHenry County, Illinois Emergency Services Vehicles

Just how fast is okay

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
April 18, 2010

One of these days a Woodstock police car using emergency equipment is going to be in a really bad crash. Again.

It happened a few years ago, and it's going to happen again.

On Friday, shortly after 5:30PM, there was a crash on Route 47 between Lucas Road and Route 176 West. Cal Skinner wrote on McHenry County Blog (http://mchenrycountyblog.com/2010/04/16/route-47-closed-by-major-two-car-accident/) that "... a Woodstock Police car came screaming down Business 14 and turned onto Route 47."

I was just turning into my driveway when a different Woodstock police car passed me heading southeast on Lake Avenue, running hot and really flying. Lake Avenue is a speedway for cops running hot (lights and siren). There are numerous driveways, intersections and the Dick Tracy Park along Lake Avenue, plus congestion at Kimball with the Woodstock Rec Center, a gas station and Coleman's.

The bright emergency lights and siren are no guarantee that someone is not going to pull out in front of the officer or make a sudden, panic stop when surprised by the siren or fast closure of the police car. Many police officers can operate their vehicles safely at higher speeds with emergency equipment, but they often are surprised by drivers doing dumb things, like stopping in the roadway or even pulling to the left, instead of the right.

The Woodstock officers were responding to assist the sheriff's department, whose deputies were apparently a farther distance from the scene of the crash. A Woodstock officer was stationed on Route 47 at Lucas Road to direct traffic either east or west, because the highway was blocked with wrecked vehicles and emergency equipment.

The small amount of time saved by traveling 60MPH (instead of 45MPH) in a congested area isn't worth the increased risk to all, and I urge WPD officers to slow down. And I urge command personnel at Woodstock Police Department and city administrators to be aware of the hazard and the risk and to issue appropriate directions to all officers regarding emergency lights and sirens.

I lived in Lakewood, Colorado, when Pierce Brooks served as its second police chief, then called Director of Public Safety. I still have a letter from him in 1971, after I ran down a kid who was stripping a stolen car. You almost never heard a siren in Lakewood. Brooks had a very strict policy about running hot. When he died in 1998, the Rocky Mountain News headline was that Brooks "'was far ahead of his time' in standards, policies."

Found this about Brooks on a website: "He was forceful, dynamic, and insisted on the highest of actions--from everyone. We had a pretty powerful Internal Affairs unit. Councilmen, mayors, city managers and other dept heads looked up to him. I have a book he wrote and I think Joe Wambaugh was a detective in LA at the same time. Pretty gruff but a no bull guy."

Brooks authored Officer Down! Code Three. If you are interested, you can read a book review on Amazon.com. If you'd like to borrow the book, let me know.

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