Los Angeles police car accidents have become a hot topic for the city of Los Angeles. A Los Angeles City Council committee this week has voted in favor of a proposal by the Los Angeles Police Department to change the rules about when police officers can use a patrol car’s lights and sirens to speed through traffic. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, the new policy would give officers in the field the discretion to decide whether to respond “Code 3” to an emergency. Code 3 is a status under California law that allows a police officer to break traffic laws as long as they use their lights and siren and show regard for the safety of other drivers.
For many years now, the LAPD has been following a strict policy that only one patrol car per emergency is dispatched Code 3. But to get around that unusually strict policy, officers commonly drove a “Code 21/2” — which is basically racing to a call without lights or sirens to warn other motorists. It’s not surprising that this off-the-books practice has been responsible for some of the worst officer-involved car crashes and car collisions costing the city more than $11 million since 2006. The issue is poised to go before the City Council.
This is an interesting issue, particularly in light of a recent Orange County fatal car crash with a police patrol car that killed La Habra couple Susanne and Charles Antuna. The controversial aspect of that fatal crash is whether or not the police officer had her lights and siren on as she was racing to a call. California Highway Patrol investigators say she did have her lights and siren on, but eyewitnesses who saw the accident say the officer was traveling at a high rate of speed at the city intersection, but did not have any lights or siren on.
Innocent bystanders get serious personal injuries in these types of incidents that involve police response. We are representing a client who was seriously injured in an Orange County broadside accident after a police officer driving on the wrong side of the street with his lights and siren on, lost control of his cruiser and struck the tow truck, which was legally stopped on the side of the road. The officer was apparently backing up another officer involved in pursuing a fleeing auto theft suspect.
The officer was badly hurt in this car crash, but so was our client, the tow truck driver. He did everything he was supposed to do. He pulled over to the side of the road, as was his duty under California Vehicle Code section 21806. But the car collision left him with injuries that made him unable to work and he ended up losing his business. He was an innocent bystander whose life was turned upside down in this case. The questions to ask here are: Did the police officers do the right thing by getting involved in a high-speed chase over an auto theft suspect? Did they stop to think about whether that pursuit was worth endangering the lives and welfare of other commuters on the city’s roadways?